Beacons of Hope – Baptists Together session
‘God is on the move in us and through us’, said General Secretary Lynn Green during the Beacons of Hope session on Saturday afternoon
A number of key things across Baptists Together that are moving us forward in our vision for mission were shared.
We are passionate about growing healthy churches, said Lynn: the results of the Fit4Mission survey last year have been shared with Association teams, who alongside the Baptists Together Mission Forum are using the data as a basis to develop plans that can encourage the health and vitality of our churches.
We also want to intentionally develop a culture where we embrace adventure, she continued: the Mission Forum has released two pioneer co-ordinators, (Roy Searle and Simon Goddard) and we have also become a formal partner with the Fresh Expressions Network.
Planting and pioneering is something ‘we urgently need to invest in and encourage,’ she continued, reminding delegates of the 94 per cent of the population who don’t yet follow Jesus.
‘Our churches are seeing that there is a spiritual openness in our communities at the moment that we haven’t seen for many years,’ Lynn said.
‘And so if we are going to see individuals and communities transformed with the good news of Jesus, then we need not only for our existing churches to be healthy and fruitful for the Kingdom, we also need to be pioneering and planting new things!’
She mentioned that so much of what we do as Baptists Together is about investing in Godly leadership. The Marks of Ministry calling - which help to identify someone’s character - have been agreed and will be used from September 2017.
Lynn also expressed ‘heartfelt thanks’ to John Rackley for his many years as Moderator of our National Ministerial Recognition Committee, as well as her delight that his successor will be Sian Murray-Williams.
Lynn spoke of how the Faith and Society Team is continuing to support, enable and develop our communications collaboratively across Baptists Together. She highlighted Together magazine, website traffic growth, and increasing social media channels and engagement. She said there were 80 ‘fantastic mission stories’ on the website, and encouraged others to share their stories with the team.
Concluding her update, Lynn shared Isaiah 43:18, the scripture she had originally shared in 2015 when launching the Beacons of Prayer initiative.
‘I have this deep sense that God is wanting to do a new thing among us.
‘What I see across Baptists Together are an incredible spiritual openness, people finding Jesus, amazing local churches and leaders loving their communities, creative missional regional teams equipping churches for mission and many gifted people offering their expertise in a whole host of ways.
‘All with the common desire to be “growing healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission”.
‘Thank you and your churches for all that you are contributing to that.
‘God is on the move in us and through us and we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, following Him wherever he leads us.’
The session also included updates on our finances and pensions, and a vote on proposals for changing the legal status of BUGB.
Our Union’s treasurer John Levick gave an update on our finances. Home Mission giving last year was £3.8m. This enabled a variety of work to be funded, including:
In North Northfleet, an area of poverty in north Kent. The South Eastern Association Evangelist, Dawn Turner, has been pioneering mission in this community which now includes a small adult worshipping group, a kids church, a men’s group, a CAP project and youth group. Home Mission funding through the Association has enabled this initiative.
Associations being able to provide events to support churches. He cited an example from Southern Counties Counties which put on a day to nurture relationships and interdependence between Home Mission supported churches and pioneers to encourage, inspire and equip them in their mission.
The third example was The Well in Sheffield, a new church already with a congregation of 200 set up with help and finance from the Yorkshire Baptist Association, and helped by the Specialist Teams which provided expertise and loans to enable the purchase of a building. Both the Association and the Specialist Teams are funded by Home Mission.
‘These three examples show that churches are not only supported by direct mission grants but also indirectly through funding for Associations and the Specialist Teams,’ said John.
‘All three are good news stories and we can give thanks to the Lord for His provision.’
However, he also explained that Home Mission giving is in slow decline. Funds are needed to address the pensions deficit. Many Associations are running at a loss. Costs are increasing because of inflation.
‘The implications of all this is that there will be less money to go round,’ John said. ‘We cannot afford to do all we do at present unless our income grows.’
He said actions have already been taken and more are planned, but called on support from churches. He said one simple action was to review giving to Home Mission: many have standing orders in place which have not been reviewed for years.
During the session John was also reappointed Baptist Union treasurer for another year.
Richard Wilson, Support Services Team Leader, gave an update on the Baptist Ministers Pension Scheme.
He explained how the environment for pensions had seen dramatic changes in the last decade. Unprecedented low interest rates have resulted in lower investment returns, which are used to pay pensions. In addition, life expectancy has risen – someone retiring aged 65 has a two year higher life expectancy than just 10 years ago.
A process to carry out a full valuation of the scheme’s assets and liabilities and agree a funding plan, as legally required every three years, is currently underway. Because things have deteriorated since the last valuation, it is inevitable that churches’ deficit contributions would have to rise if nothing is done, said Richard. ‘This is something we are very keen to avoid.’
He explained that in 2016, the Baptist Pension Employers’ group was set up, chaired by Malcolm Broad, a former treasurer of the Baptist Union. This group represents the interests of all the employers in the scheme, particularly the 1,300 local churches.
The Employers’ Group have developed the Family Solution plan, a series of proposals involving all across Baptists Together. The aim is to eliminate the deficit in ten years without increasing the overall level of contributions from churches.
‘These are challenging objectives, but with God’s grace they are achievable.’
He called on churches to be patient and seek appropriate advice. A series of pension roadshows will take place in the autumn.
‘Above all, I ask all members of the Baptist family to pray for the situation and the people working on your behalf in this area,’ said Richard.
Charitable Incorporated Organisation
Rich Webb, chair of the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s (BUGB) board of trustees, gave an update on the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) progress.
‘The BU is not an incorporated organisation; this means it has no legal personality,’ Rich explained. ‘It operates through the trustees. We are recognising this is not the most helpful set up for the Union.’
After a process that’s involved much consultation, and advice from solicitors Anthony Collins, our Union has decided to pursue an option of becoming a CIO.
Rich explained that this was simply a change to the legal structure of our Union.
There had been an informal question and answer session on the proposed change prior to the Assembly opening. Some of the questions included: what actually changes? Will there be a difference in terms of ecclesiology? Will there be a name change? A change to pensions?
The answer to all of these questions is no, said Rich. ‘This will not change any of those things, it’s simply the legal structure at the centre of our Union.’
A resolution to prepare a draft constitution and to pursue the CIO route for the future was approved unanimously. A new constitution will be worked on and presented to next year’s Assembly.