Baptist Union Council: March 2017
Reflection on our vision for mission and the Futures Process were among the main topics during the March gathering of the Baptist Union Council
The Baptist Union pension situation, the future of the Baptist Assembly, ministerial guidelines relating to Same Sex Marriage and a petition calling for the reinstatement of the Baptist Union directory were also discussed when Council members met at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick March 16-17.
The gathering was moderated by Rupert Lazar, Baptist Union President in the absence of usual moderator David Mayne, away as part of the European Baptist Federation Transform leadership programme.
‘We are family together, Baptists Together,’ Rupert said, opening the gathering. ‘We pray that we will engage and seek to listen. All of us want to meet with God, want to hear from God, and we want the Spirit to move among us.’
Worship was led by Barbara Carpenter, minister of Stoke St Gregory Baptist Church in Somerset and a Baptist Union trustee. She presided over communion at both the start and end of the two-day gathering.
Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)
A proposal that our Baptist Union becomes a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) was discussed. The Union is currently an unincorporated charity, which creates challenges and is not “an ideal structure for such a complicated body”, said Shared Services Team Leader Richard Wilson.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) is a registered charity and operates through its charity trustees. Currently it does not have its own legal identity to enable it to enter into contracts or to hold its own property. Incorporation will enable BUGB to enter into long term agreements which will not be affected by a change of trustee, and will provide a legal structure which is better understood by stakeholders. There will also be protection for trustees from personal liability arising from claims by third parties. The change will aid the recruitment of future trustees.
The other main option was becoming a company limited by guarantee. However, Richard explained, it was felt that this didn’t sit well with Baptist ecclesiology: this model raises the possibility of members exercising their vote through a proxy, who might not be a member of a Baptist church or even a believer.
Letters of consultation were sent from Lynn Green on behalf of the BUGB Trustees to all Baptist member churches on 17 January 2017. The letter also invited delegates attending the Assembly in Harrogate on 13 May 2017 to attend an informal question and answer session on the proposed change to legal status.
Council voted unanimously to accept the Trustees recommendation that BUGB incorporate as a CIO. A resolution will now be taken to 2017 Assembly. If approved, a draft constitution will be presented to the 2018 Assembly for adoption.
The Thursday morning and early afternoon session saw a presentation and discussion about the pension deficit, led by the Baptist Pension Scheme Employers Group (EG). The Employers Group has been set up to represent the churches. (The Baptist Union Pension Trustees represent members.) The employers group began its work in early 2016, and consists of nine members, moderated by former treasurer Malclolm Broad.
Tim Jackson, treasurer of the East Midlands Baptist Association and EG member, led the presentation to Council. He explained that the pension scheme deficit had risen by 48 per cent. This was due to a combination of factors, such as low interest rates, quantitative easing and low investment returns.
The EG had received a very clear message from churches during the 2015/16 roadshows that we need as a Baptist family to deal with the crisis now, rather than leave it to a future generation, Tim said.
He explained that with such a deficit, there is no silver bullet within the Baptist family: it needs what the EG has described as ‘Family Solutions’, a series of proposals involving all across Baptists Together.
This solution is not about supporting the structure, said Graham Ensor, a Baptist Union trustee and member of the EG, ‘but the churches who are carrying these debts.’ There are currently 1300 churches in the scheme.
A proposal is needed for the Pensions Regulator by the end of March next year.
With churches finding out by April what their individual deficits are, another series of pension roadshows across all Associations are being organised during 2017.
Tim added, ‘There is a crisis; the whole family needs to contribute. The result will be that the local church should be freed up for mission with the money it’s got.’
An update on Baptist Union finances was given by treasurer John Levick and Richard Wilson, Support Services Team Leader. 2016 saw our Union record a small surplus of £63,000, but without one-off gains on sale of properties this would have been a loss of £118,000.
However, much of this was due to expenditure being significantly below budget. Home Mission giving was down again, as was legacy income.
Richard pointed out that Home Mission giving had experienced a 20 per cent decline in real terms in the last 10 years. In that period our Union’s finances had been balanced by cost-cutting. (For instance, the Futures process saw a £1.2m drop in specialists team spending, although all but £400k of this was transferred to Association teams.)
A deficit is forecast for 2017, with potentially a larger one for 2018. Turning Home Mission around was key, Richard said, adding, ‘Irrespective of pensions, we are facing a very tough financial climate.'
The AGM of the Retired Baptist Ministers’ Housing Society took place on Thursday afternoon. The Society now owns and manages 243 properties. It has continued to meet the needs of those requiring a property. Its profits are reinvested in new properties.
Chairman Bill Johnston said, ‘We give thanks to God and all those who continue to bless the Society – it has been a tremendous success story.’
Ministerial Recognition Committee
Ministries Team Leader Andy Hughes brought the recommendation that Sian Murray Williams be the new moderator of the Ministerial Recognition Committee (MRC). A vacancy arose after John Rackley stepped down after serving for three terms of office. The role involves chairing the National MRC three times a year; chairing various sub committees, disciplinary hearings and attending the Newly Accredited Ministers conference.
‘It’s a key role in the life of our Union, and we give thanks for John for all he has given,’ said Andy.
It’s the first time the role has become vacant since the Futures process, and explained it felt right that Council made the appointment. There had been other expressions of interest, ‘but it became clear that Sian was the person the Lord was leading,’ Andy said.
His report stated that she brings ‘a wealth of experience to the role’, having been involved in both local ministry at Littlemore in Oxford and then from 2006 serving as tutor at Bristol Baptist College, and now as a spiritual director. She has also served as Moderator of the Faith and Unity Executive.
Council voted unanimously to accept the nomination.
Ministerial guidelines and Same Sex Marriage legislation
There was an update on ministerial guidelines relating to Same Sex Marriage (SSM) legislation. At the previous Council, members did not believe it would be helpful to add any new rules. Since then further consultation with Associations has taken place. Guidance notes drawn up by MRC alongside a resolution stating that decisions relating to presiding at a SSM or not should reside with the local church were brought to this Council.
The resolution was accepted unanimously, with two abstensions.
Guidance notes will be made available to all ministers and nationally recognised pastors shortly. The notes include a detailed explanation of the basis for the conclusions.
BMS General Director David Kerrigan, a contributor to The Courage to be Baptist statement, said, ‘I want to affirm the excellent work done - a wonderful example of hard work, real grace in conversation, how incredibly gracious God has been with us that’s he given us a way of negotiating this way. As Baptists we have a gift – we recognise the centrality of the local church. The words here make me proud to be part of the Union.’
A bibliography citing resources for further study and biblical reflection on the question of SSMs was shared.
Our vision for Mission and the Futures process
Thursday evening and Friday morning saw Council members invited to reflect and review following the Futures process. In 2012 the Futures report had explored how our Union would seek to work together in the future. One of the organisational principles identified in the report was developing the capacity for ongoing reform.
On Thursday evening Lynn Green introduced the discussion, beginning with our vision “Growing healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission” and speaking on John 15: 1-8. If we want to be faithful to God’s call, we need to be open to God’s pruning. She invited Council members to reflect overnight on areas where we are flying, and areas where we feel stuck in the mud.
On Friday morning, Council spent an hour sharing together in plenary, beginning with where we are flying as Baptists Together. Very good local churches and ministers, excellent creative and missional engagement with the wider community, our response to asylum seekers and the awarding of Home Mission grants regionally, rather than nationally, were all highlighted.
Members then began to share those areas where we feel ‘stuck in the mud’. Areas highlighted were numerous and included our complex structures and the decision making and accountability within them; Home Mission and its communication and promotion; struggling local churches; the pension situation and the wider difficult financial climate; an erosion of covenant relationships and our interdependence as churches, associations and colleges.
They were invited to gather into groups and think about which of the 'stuck areas' were most important to address. These priority areas highlighted key common concerns across the groups. Lynn outlined that the next two All Team Leaders meetings are working with a facilitator to identify potential solutions to these issues.
The Baptist Assembly
Council members approved a recommendation that the Baptist Assembly continue to be one-day event until ‘a clear and renewed vision’ for the future of Assembly is established.
They were reminded that at the last Council meeting, Faith and Society Team Leader Stephen Keyworth explained that the Futures Process had recognised the need to do something different with Assembly, due to factors such as falling attendance, its growing cost, and organisational changes. There had been a commitment to three one-day Assemblies for 2015-2017, with a review after the second year. A wide-ranging survey had been undertaken, with 1,000 responses.
When the responses were analysed, ‘it became clear that there was no consensus about the future direction of Assembly’.
Therefore, the Council report stated, ‘Given this lack of clarity, together with our ongoing financial constraints, the many other pressing priorities that we have been engaging with in the last six months, and the forthcoming appointment of a new General Director for BMS World Mission, Baptist Steering Group are recommending that we continue with one day Assemblies until we are able to know more clearly what the future should look like.’
A petition organised by Baptist minister Bob Almond calling on the Assembly to discuss the reinstatement of the Baptist Union Directory was brought to Council. It had received 120 signatures.
Council discussed the resolution and carefully considered the concerns raised by the signatories. The discussion was very relevant in the light of the previous reflection on Futures as the demise of the directory in printed form was a direct result of our reorganisation in 2012.
Council decided that it did not wish to wait for the resolution to return to them in November, but in recognising the concerns, accepted the resolution as if it had been adopted by Assembly and commissioned Stephen Keyworth to ‘investigate as a matter of importance ways in which this information could be made available to all Regional Teams, Ministers and local Church Officers’ to begin as soon as possible.
An update will be given at this year’s Assembly, and the matter will be discussed at the next Council meeting.