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Goodbye, Ministry Today UK, and thank you

Paul Goodliff reflects on the cross-denominational organisation run by ministers, for ministers 


In April of this year, after almost a quarter of a century, Ministry Today came to a fitting close. Aimed squarely at working ministers and pastors, and while Baptist in its origins, ecumenical almost throughout its life, Ministry Today provided a forum for the exchange of good practice, fresh ideas and thoughtful reflection upon the practice of ministry.

Paul Beasley-Murray gathered some Baptist ministers in 1993 to form an embryonic Board, and I was privileged to be one of those founding members, together with Charles de Lacy (Chelmsford), Alistair Ross (ministering in Bexleyheath) and Gerald Bradley (a business consultant based in Bookham). We met in June of that year at Paul's manse in Chelmsford, where he had recently taken up the pastorate at Victoria Road South, and we quickly added to our number Alun Brookfield from The Bible Society (who became the Journal's longest-serving editor, from issue 16 to 72), and in 1994, Gerald's wife, Pat; Cazz Colmer (married to Geoff, a Baptist minister in Rye, soon to move to Melton Mowbray) and Tim Marks, a tutor at Moorlands.   

Over the years it was through Ministry Today and its Board that I made so many good friends, too many to list in its entirety, but.....  Derek Fraser, now Lead Chaplain at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge; Tim Marks, who for a while was the incumbent of three rural parishes up the A1 from where I lived in Stevenage; Alistair Ross, now University lecturer in psychotherapy at the University of Oxford and Dean of Kellogg College; Ian Stackhouse, now minister of Guildford Baptist Church at the Millmead Centre; and Becky Totterdell, a near-neighbour of mine in a parish outside Stevenage.

Above all, Paul Beasley-Murray, of course, whose vision, initiative and passion drove the life of Ministry Today UK. The Board stayed overnight at the Bradley's in the early days, giving us a feel of retreat as well as work, and Board member Julian Reindorp (Vicar of Richmond-on-Thames) organised a similar arrangement for a couple of times, asking his neighbours (including actors, newspaper editors and musicians) in Richmond to offer a bed to assorted board members, making for very interesting conversations over the cocoa. 

Ministry Today BT

The photo at the launch of the Richard Baxter Institute for Ministry, which would become Ministry Today UK, as it appeared in The Baptist Times in 1994


The formal launch was at The Free Church Federal Council offices in Tavistock Square on 21 March 1994 (strangely, now my London base as General Secretary-designate of Churches Together in England) and we had our photo taken in Dr Williams' Library nearby, with the portrait of Richard Baxter, as the body was launched as The Richard Baxter Institute for Ministry (RBIM). Aware of the number of ministerial casualties, and the fast-changing nature of society and ministry, the purpose was to resource the working minister through annual conferences and a journal. When the use of Richard Baxter's name led to some thinking we were a modern-day Puritan, we changed to Ministry Today UK (MTUK). 

The board met regularly throughout the years, preparing the next edition of the Journal, organising the annual conference, marketing the work of the Institute, and always sharing in some reflection on ministry as one us presented a paper for conversation after lunch.

Personally, I look back on those meetings in Chelmsford, Richmond, Bookham, or my home in Stevenage, with huge gratitude. They contributed to a passion for best ministry practice that influenced my term as the Baptist Union's Central Area General Superintendent, and then Head of Ministry, while, strangely, the increasingly ecumenical character of the Board played its part in that ecumenical side of my life that sees me about to become CTE's next General Secretary. God weaves themes and strands of life together in his purposes, always preparing us for what comes next, and I can testify to God's grace in this way. 

All in all, 72 editions of Ministry Today were published between Spring 1994 and Spring 2018, the UK's only cross-denominational journal devoted to the practice of ministry. It carried articles on liturgy, pastoral practice, mission, sustaining the minister's life and much more. Hardly any book for the minister's library was un-reviewed, and forthright guidance offered as to whether this or that book was worth buying — some required you sell your shirt! — or whether it was probably best left to the college library. 

All is not lost, for every edition has been re-published in an 8-volume, hard-bound compilation, (minus the book reviews) which amounts to one of the richest resources for the working minister available. I am assured that this resource remains available, through its sister organisation, The College of Baptist Ministers. For Baptists at least, this organisation (of which I am a Director) continues some of Ministry Today's work of encouraging the best from every one called to serve Christ and his church in pastoral ministry.  

Times move on, but the need to support ministry remains. I can only hope that some fresh ways of enabling the working minister to reflect upon her work, write it up, and have it published, are developed, so that the challenge to sustain ministry for the long-haul is met for the next generation. 

The parting observation must be to express the gratitude of so many to Paul Beasley-Murray, who chaired RBIM, and then MTUK with unflagging hard work, encouragement and passion in his own inimitable style. 


The Revd Dr Paul Goodliff is General Secretary-designate, Churches Together in England  

Baptist Times, 25/07/2018
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