'It feels like a genuine community'
Over the last seven years the Baptist churches in Plymouth have gone through a relationship revolution. The ministers have committed as a cluster,not just to meeting monthly, but weekly, gathering to pray with each other and eat together
Tim Parkman, minister of Saltash Baptist Church, and the network minister tells the story:
I took over from Malc (Halliday) as Network Minister and I wanted to make sure that the role continued to not just be defined by organising events, but by making sure that people felt supported, loved and cared for. This means that each week when I meet I make a mental note of meetings, life occasions or difficult situations. I stay in touch with the ministers to know that we don’t just pay lip service to our walking with one another, but it is born out of a genuine love and care.
When a new minister moves to the area we always make sure we hold some kind of event to welcome them. When I mention that the cluster here meets weekly you can always see the look of disbelief in their face.
Our discussions seem real on a deep level, not just what’s happening in our churches, but we share how life is. Because we meet so regularly some of the potential superficial ‘How are you?’ is replaced by more appropriate and searching questions. We laugh together, poke fun at one another (including continually referring to one of our group as the worst preacher in Plymouth, due to a throw away comment someone once made) we cry and hurt together and we eat together. It sounds a lot, but it is one of the most genuine groups of ministers I have ever had the privilege of being part of.
Is it perfect? No. Could it be better? Yes, but we are working on that and I know that in the good times and in the hard times I will always have Tuesday lunchtime to share life with people who I know will support each other.
'A model of how all ministers should relate to each other'
Michael Shaw is the minister of Devenport Baptist Church in Plymouth. He writes:
A few years ago, I was at my lowest ebb. My wife and I’s one round of IVF had failed. We had been through a seven year journey and that was our last hope. A few days later we had a knock at our door. There was our Network Minister, Malc, with a bunch of flowers.
When I arrived in Plymouth over seven years ago, my first church after college, I was quickly invited along to the cluster breakfast, it happened every week. A few years later it turned into a lunch, but it was still weekly. We meet, we share, we pray, we eat and we do it weekly. Not everyone is there every week, but most weeks we gather. It is not a place of egos; we have big church and small church leaders, we share our joys and our fears. We laugh, at each other and with each other, and we have cried with each other.
Meeting weekly means that we have a close bond, we trust each other, we can do things together, we can work together. Last year we helped organise a fun day for the Association, with each church taking a different role. We even have a Whatsapp group! We have started doing family walks over the last few years.
It always amuses me when people call it our cluster, because it does not feel like a cluster, it feels like a genuine community. So no wonder when our IVF failed we got a visit. This is more than just a cluster, and for me it is the model of how all ministers should relate to each other.
Back row, left to right: Michael Shaw, Devenport Baptist; Mike Law, SWBA and Mutley Baptist; Tim Parkman, Saltash Baptist;
Front row: Luke Mansfield, Hope Baptist; Hannah Freeland - Hooe Baptist; Paul Carter - Salisbury Road Baptist