Baptist Union Council: November 2017
Mission and pioneering were a key focus at the November 2017 Baptist Union Council.
Reflection on the 10th anniversary of The Apology, a new season for the Baptist Assembly, proposals for a new online directory, and progress towards meeting the pension deficit were also on the agenda.
The role of Council is to discern the broad strategic direction of our Union. George Ayoma, minister of Fleetwood Baptist Church (NWBA) led worship over the two days at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick (2-3 November). Opening the gathering and using Exodus as his text, George gave a picture of Council, churches, colleges and Associations journeying together in faith.
Please scroll down for the following reports:
Mission and pioneering
Key Roles Nominations
New churches welcomed
Charitable Incorporated Organisation
Mission and pioneering
The opening day was punctuated by three key sessions devoted to mission and pioneering, led by our Union’s pioneer co-ordinators Roy Searle and Simon Goddard. They challenged us to be ‘bucket-list Baptists’, to have a bigger vision and be willing to do things differently in changing times.
In the first session they spoke of the importance of understanding where we are, or as Roy noted, ‘defining reality.’ The world and the Christian context is changing, with fewer people in church.
Simon argued that the shift we are experiencing is more significant than the Reformation, and is as big as the change the third century church experienced. We are in the post-Christendom age where the church is being pushed to the margins of society.
‘The nature of being and doing church is changing,’ Simon said. ‘But I want to say these things in context of faith – God does not want to leave us where we are – he wants to walk with us.’
Council members were given a picture of the four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter – and were asked to name which aspects of our Union most closely relates to each one.
The most popular season was autumn with 35 comments, but spring wasn’t far behind with 28. There were 16 comments about winter in various contexts, alongside five mentions of summer.
‘This is encouraging,’ said Roy, ‘there were lots of comments about new ways of doing church, lots of fresh vision and energy. But there were some very pertinent comments about it being fragile growth – how will it survive?’
The second mission and pioneering session, which took place in the late afternoon, was titled “What is good?”. There was a focus on spring, on noticing the new things God is doing among us. Council members were asked to reflect on where God is at work, and to see if they could discern any themes or patterns.
Roy spoke of learning from farmers in his former home in north Northumberland, of how they are continually surveying the land, learning and adapting. ‘As missional people we need to be men and women who can survey the land, recognise patterns and threads, and respond accordingly. We need to chart some of the things where we’re seeing signs of growth.’
Members gathered in small groups around tables, and a number of patterns emerged in the an ensuing feedback session. These included:
New forms of church, such as Kahaila and 57 West
The number of Iranians coming to faith in our churches across the country
Young leaders being appointed in some places
Leaders laying down power and congregations being empowered
People intentionally planting in communities where isn’t a strong Christian witness.
A growth in chaplaincies, particularly where there hadn’t been chaplains before
Churches finding new ways of being incarnational, such as Chichester with its missional communities
Churches seeing needs in communities and responding to those needs
Young people who are happy to share the faith in normal life
Diversity of people coming into ministry – there isn’t a mould for Baptist ministers.
Growth in relational unity and partnership – ecumenically and among Baptists, particularly grass roots up
Inspirational leaders, unashamedly calling people to Jesus
Authentic and vibrant prayer that’s resulting in engagement with community
Lots of churches concentrating on people God’s given them; doing less but doing it better.
The final session, on Thursday evening was entitled “So what?” Roy and Simon both shared glimpses of what they had seen on their travels. Roy said the picture was mixed: on the one hand, we’re ageing and declining. However, people are recognising the need to change, and God is raising pioneers up among us.
Simon commended the ministry of Urban Expression, which plants congregations in areas of urban deprivation, but added that he believes renewal is going to come from existing congregations - pioneering is a willingness to try something new. He spoke about being “bucket list Baptists” - of churches and people being willing to take a risk.
Roy said if we’re serious about pioneering, we need to resource it. He invited Council members to think about where we need to deploy our resources and energies.
There were five areas to consider: Ecclesiology, Leadership, Resourcing, Partnerships, Scenario planning
The recommendations will be passed to the Mission Forum for consideration and implementation.
This was the 10th anniversary of Baptist Union Council offering an Apology for Slavery. General Secretary Lynn Green was a council member at the time, and reflected on what happened.
Like many others she arrived at the November 2007 meeting wondering how we could offer an apology for something someone else had done. But through prayer and deep listening, ‘our friends David Shosanya, Joe Kapolyo, Richard Kidd and Graham Sparkes enabled us to come to a place where we began to see differently and understand our share in and benefit from our nation’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade.’
It was ‘the most profound experience of understanding the mind of Christ together,’ she said. ‘It was a profound moment and I was changed at that Council.’
She then reflected on the journey since the Apology, and paid tribute to the ongoing work of Wale Hudson-Roberts, Justice Enabler and the significant contribution of the racial justice working group over the years. She highlighted the intentional development of our relationship with the Jamaica Baptist Union; the development of Justice Hubs, a range of resources (Lest We Forget study guide, Pentecost People, the Journeying to Justice book); the Sam Sharpe Project including the annual lecture; the establishing in our culture values that speak into this (feel like one team; celebrating diversity; Sharing a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom; a holy discontent) and the intention that 20 per cent of Council members be drawn from the BME community.
But Lynn said that more needs to be done. ‘We are 10 years on; while we have done many good things; we haven’t done enough. Saying sorry is not enough. Words alone don’t change things. Our hearts need to change. It’s about repentance, turning around and walking in another direction, so that we can build Christlike relationships with all people.
‘Just because we said something in 2007, we need to live it in 2017. We need to create together a genuinely new space for us all to live in.’
Following Lynn's reflection, George led Council members in the following covenant prayer.
Key Roles Nominations
Lynn’s Apology message was reflected in the report of Rupert Lazar, moderator of the Key Roles Nominations Team. He reminded Council, and in particular Associations, of the importance of keeping diversity in mind when appointing their representatives to Council.
However, work is progressing: a discernment day in autumn had worked well in terms of networking and building relationships, and it is hoped that Council will have four new co-opted members at its next gathering - all under 40, two female, one BME and one lay.
Phil Jump, North Western Baptist Association Regional Minister Team Leader was appointed as a trustee. Marjorie Allan, of The Well in Sheffield, was appointed to the Accompanying Group of the Baptist Steering Group.
New churches welcomed
Eight new churches joining our Union were welcomed and affirmed by Council. The churches ‘speak of our context and changing demographic, which is something for us to celebrate,’ noted Faith and Society Team leader Stephen Keyworth in introducing them.
The churches are:
1 New Growth Ministries (EBA)
2 Lighthouse Community Church (SEBA)
3 Genesis Baptist Church (LBA)
4 International Praise Centre (LBA)
5 Pentecost Baptist Church (LBA)
6 Betel Romanian Baptist Church, Croydon (LBA)
7 London Chinese Baptist Church, Bow (LBA)
8 Darlington Baptist Church (NBA)
Four churches are ceasing membership of our Union for a variety of reasons. All the fellowships were prayed for.
Council members were asked to consider a proposal to commit to up to three two-day Assemblies from 2019. At the previous Council members had agreed that for the foreseeable future we will continue with one-day Assemblies, so plans are coming together for Peterborough on 12 May 2018.
However, what’s really valued is the opportunity to meet friends and colleagues with similar interests, explained Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team leader: that’s the ‘consistent voice heard in all the surveys and conversations around Assembly and our general life as Baptists Together.’
Since last Council there has been the Baptist Assembly in Harrogate, which, due to the generosity of the event hosts, saw a communion service on the Sunday morning. Stephen said it had been a good experience and allowed people to connect.
With no venue yet booked for 2019, a new proposal was brought before Council members to consider a season of longer Assemblies.
He invited Council members to reflect on the difference between the Assembly – the only place where churches are directly represented and where the AGM needs to be held – and the Baptist Assembly as a teaching and celebration event.
People had different expectations about it. Celebration and / or deliberation? Praise and /or prayer/listening?
If longer, the Assembly could feature some elements we are not currently doing, such as deliberation and engaging with leaders in specific areas, as well as increase opportunities for connection.
There is a cost implication. ‘How much are we prepared to invest?’ Stephen asked Council.
There was widespread support among Council members for a longer Assembly. ‘Investing in togetherness in this way is serious,’ said John Claydon, Regional Minister Team Leader Northern Baptist Association. ‘How do you measure relationship capital? It seems in going to one day there is something we have lost.’
There was concern about the cost, in light of the current financial picture. However the motion was carried with a small number against or abstaining.
The proposal had not been agreed with BMS World Mission, and would require further discussion following Council.
Council members were asked to consider a proposal for a new Baptists Together Online Directory.
A petition had been brought to the previous Council in March calling for the reinstatement of the Baptist Union Directory, which had ceased production as part of the reorganisation of the Futures process. Council members had commissioned Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team leader, to investigate ways in which this information could be made available.
Stephen said there were a number of reasons for not bringing the directory back in printed form; including cost (the Futures process had taken away the Communications department, which produced the resource), duplication (each Association has a directory in some form), and developments to our database.
He offered an alternative, presenting a report outlining what a new online directory would look like.
Much of the information contained within the printed directory was already available on the website, the report stated. Two key areas were missing: lists of Baptist Union churches, and of Baptist Union accredited ministers.
A new ‘Online Directory’ section could contain these lists, and serve as a landing page from which to obtain the majority of the information previously held in the printed directory.
Churches would be listed alphabetically by town, and provide the latest statistics (members, children, young people, baptisms). The list will be updated after each Council.
Ministers would be listed alphabetically with the name of their current post and association. Stephen explained much thought had been given on whether to provide contact details, with advice taken from our Union’s Data Protection Officer. Although this could have been done in light of our current Privacy Statement, ‘there is a lot of difference between providing contact details in a printed book which people need to buy or access from a public library, and providing them on a website freely accessible to anyone anywhere.’
‘We therefore took the view most people would not want their details published this way,’ he said.
He explained there is sufficient information on the list of accredited ministers, alongside our church finder facility, for users to make contact via church websites in most cases. Where this is not possible, people are encouraged to contact the Ministries Team, who will pass their message on to the intended recipient.
The list will be updated after each Ministerial Recognition Committee, and when other changes need recording. ‘We can change it quickly and keep the data up to date,’ said Stephen.
His report concluded: ‘The one Online Directory will enable users to easily find information about churches, ministries, other partner organisations and our structure. ‘We hope that this will be a valuable tool to help ministers, churches and other users navigate the wealth of information which is freely available on our website.’
The proposal was warmly received by Council. Glen Graham, a Baptist minister who is blind, said this was the first time ‘people like me have been able to have an accessible directory.’ Paul Revill, regional minister of the Northern Baptist Association, called it ‘a fantastic piece of work.’ There were questions about whether the list would include unaccredited ministers, or missional projects that are not constituted as churches. Stephen responded that thought would be given to this, and given that the facility is online, changes could be implemented quickly.
Council members approved the proposal. The new online directory will be available to all users sometime shortly after Council.
Charitable Incorporated Organisation
The next phase of the Baptist Union of Great Britain becoming a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) took place. BUGB is currently an unincorporated charity, and the previous Council saw members vote unanimously to accept the Trustees recommendation that BUGB incorporates as a CIO.
This time Council members were presented with a draft constitution. Rich Webb, moderator of Trustees, explained that the constitution has been drafted to meet the requirements in the Charities Act 2011 for CIOs, but otherwise mirrors as closely as possible the current BUGB constitution for the unincorporated charity. Members were given a chart explaining the main differences between the current and new constitution, alongside an explanation. They were asked to consider the specific wording on a small number of clauses, before voting to approve that the constitution proceeds to the next stage of the process.
There will now be a consultation period for BUGB members to consider the CIO constitution. A letter was sent to members on 6 November (more details here). In February 2018 BUGB Trustees will consider any amendments and approve the final draft, which will be brought to March Council. Assembly 2018 will be asked to adopt the new CIO constitution.
A number of sessions concerned our Union’s finances. Due to higher than expected legacies compensating for shortfalls in other areas, a small surplus is forecast for 2017, Richard Wilson, Support Services Team Leader reported. He noted that the 2018 budget process is well underway. Both Associations and Specialist Teams will have reduced funding and are required to make savings.
Members approved a three per cent increase to subscriptions for 2018, in line with inflation.
Treasurer John Levick spoke of the wider financial picture. He said our Union is facing a funding gap in the coming years with inflation pushing up costs and Home Mission on a downward trend. We are looking at sustainable financial models ‘not because we are driven by money, because we want a missional future.’
Council members were invited to discern and reflect on a possible revised subscription model, and a more collaborative approach to setting the Home Mission budget.
Malcolm Broad, moderator of the Baptist Pension Scheme Employers Group (EG) which represents churches, gave an update on the “Family Solution” to the pension deficit. The idea of a series of proposals across Baptists Together to significantly reduce the pension debt and ensure that church deficit payments don’t rise had been introduced at the last Council. ‘When we met as an Employers Group, the key aim was to eradicate the deficit in the ministers’ benefit scheme within 10 years or sooner, without paining our churches anymore,’ said Malcolm.
He explained there had been meetings with pension specialists. Independent specialist pension lawyers and an independent firm of actuaries had been appointed. He said there is tangible evidence that a family solution can work, and outlined a series of proposals and projections that would reduce the deficit by half.
The EG will be putting the proposals to the Pension Trustee next week, so Council members were asked not to communicate them.
A special general meeting of the Retired Baptist Ministers Housing Society (RBMHS) was called to approve a change of constitution to a CIO, and a separate charitable trust corporation to act as holding trustee for the CIO. The change mirrors BUGB becoming a CIO.
The change was approved and RBMHS will become the Retired Baptist Ministers Housing Organisation (RBMHO). Under the new structure, members of Council will no longer be the members of RBMHS (the BUGB Trustee Board will appoint eight of the RBMHO trustees.)
‘This is the last time this meeting will meet,’ noted RBMHS chair Bill Johnston. ‘With the change of constitution you have just disbanded yourself.’ He said if Council valued RBMHO bringing updates going forward, it would be happy to do so.
The two days were wrapped in prayer and acknowledgement of God’s presence. George led members in the following creed:
We believe in God: Who has created as is creating, who has come in Jesus – the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new – who works in us and others by the Holy Spirit.
We trust in God.
His prayer on Friday morning focused on families in ministry; people who have left ministry; and others just starting ministry. Council held in prayer the family of Barrie Smith, a former Regional Minister and Council member who has died after a battle with cancer.
The Thursday evening prayer session was live streamed on Facebook. Churches were encouraged to join in, and add their prayers and reflections in the comments. The video (below) has been viewed more than 2500 times.
Illustration | Ruth Whiter