Worth liking: the Baptist Assembly in Wales 2016
This year's Baptist Assembly in Wales took place under the theme Worth Saving. Jonathan Langley was there
“They seem to like each other,” one of the tech guys says. “That’s why in theory we’re about to start the session and nobody’s actually here. They’re chatting. Happens every year.” The ‘they’ are delegates at the Baptist Assembly in Wales, and ‘here’ is the theatre venue for the main worship sessions and talks in Carmarthen.
This is the English speaking Assembly (there’s a Welsh speaking one too), hosted by the Baptist Union of Wales, the South Wales Baptist Association and BMS World Mission. The tech guy works for BMS, part of a team that helps to put this Assembly together every year. That means producing, vision mixing, stage managing, sound designing, programme administrating, song wordsing – all of the stuff you know goes into an event like that (and about 40 per cent more that you’ve never considered). BMS contributes to the programme and planning, too. Why? Because we love the Baptist Union of Wales. Because Welsh Baptists have played a huge and significant role in BMS history for hundreds of years and they are still an essential part of who we are. Because this Assembly is a beautiful thing.
This year’s theme is Worth Saving – not to be confused with the latest BMS creation care initiative, also called Worth Saving, which gets a fair look in over the Assembly – with talks and discussions about communities worth saving, a planet worth saving and churches worth saving making up the spine of the event.
Evangelical Alliance Director of Mission/England Gavin Calver (pictured) brings a straight-talking energy to his exhortations to boldness and distinctiveness. He’s also very funny. His dynamism is offset by Elfed Godding, EA Director of Coalitions and Wales, who encourages the Christian leaders in the room to be smart and strategic in their proclamation of the truth.
Baptist Union General Secretary Lynn Green brings a prophetic message bordering on mystical as she encourages the Assembly not to miss the literal and spiritual signs of God’s calling. A farewell to the much-loved outgoing President, Peter Thomas and a welcoming incoming President, Mark Thomas just serve to amplify the sense that this is a gathering of family, with friendly joshing and heartfelt thanks being the order of the day.
BMS’ work with Syrian refugees and Christian Aid’s work in Ghana, as well as the various scientific and philosophical approaches that inform our understanding of creation care and climate change, all provide a great deal to think about, while a varied programme of worship and a good emphasis on time and space for prayer and reflection root the Assembly in what it is all about: God’s family encouraging each other to see God’s kingdom made manifest in Wales and beyond.
In between the main talks, delegates attend seminars on the value of the Welsh language to faith communities, reflecting on climate change at a deeper psychological and emotional level, and a gloriously entertaining public conversation between Roy Jenkins, Lynn Green and her counterpart in Wales, Judith Morris (pictured).
But it’s as much about the moments between the programme as the programme itself. You know the kind of thing. The coffee breaks out on the roof or in a muggy seminar room, seeing people you’ve not seen since last Assembly. Talking about the old days, about the Church and the church, about the speakers and church local mission initiatives and the hip replacements and the grandkids and the refugee crisis. About God’s call on our lives. Chatting with the BMS folk on our stand, wearing our 360 degree virtual reality headsets showing images of the countries they work in and the ministries through which we plan to transform a million lives. Just enjoying a lunch with friends.
There is a lot of laughter at the Baptist Assembly in Wales. Very rarely is there a sense of being rushed, of process or production overshadowing people. Yes, it is professional, focused on a higher goal and as ordered as an annual event for hundreds of people must be. But the sense of the thing, the flavour, is of harmony and unity. As if the people actually like each other.
Visit the Assembly's downloads page for talks from the event, including Gavin Calver, Elfed Godding and Lynn Green
Jonathan Langley is Head of Content at BMS World Mission