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The Great Unshaken Celebration! 

A number of women in Baptist ministry gathered online on Saturday night to bless and encourage those due to have had their 'handshake' at this year's Baptist Assembly. Catriona Gorton explains more  


Unshaken screens

I love Baptist Assembly, and, because of my unique situation, I get to attend, as a delegate, the Baptist Assemblies in both England/Wales and Scotland! Over time, Assembly has changed hugely, but there are, for me, two key moments that ‘make’ it what it is… the recognition of ministers and missionaries, and the ‘in memoriam.’  Somehow in these two moments, my own story as a minister connects with those who have gone ahead of me, and those who will come behind me – I am affirmed anew for my continuing ministry, reminded (in a good way) of my mortality, and assured of the movement of God’s Spirit among this people called Baptists.  It will be no surprise, then, that I was sad to think that this year, for all the best reasons, these moments would be delayed or even absent.

Then it happened! One of the women who had been due to receive her handshake this year posted in our private Facebook group to say that, to mark the moment, she was ordering in a special delivery meal (seven beautifully arranged mushrooms, as it turned out). Another woman, established in ministry, said that she would do the same, and raise a glass of something non-alcoholic to her sisters. Ideas buzzed, and The Great Unshaken Celebration was born. 

On the evening of Saturday 9 May, I watched in awe as little tiles slowly filled my computer screen and one by one women from all over the UK joined our Zoom. The premise was really simple. We gathered the names – and where possible photos – of those we knew who would have been ‘handshaked’ to form a PowerPoint presentation. We adapted the prayers from the programme of the 2007 Assembly (the year I had my handshake) and added a beautiful blessing from Gathering Up the Crumbs. 

To celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of our group, these words were shared between women at different stages, and in different expressions, of ministry: a retired minister, a Regional Minister, a church minister, a college tutor, an accredited lay minister and a minister in training.  We ended with a toast (in tea, lemonade, wine or whatever!) remembering Edith Gates and Violet Hedger, who went before us, and saluting our sisters in Christ today.

Here is what some of those who were honoured said about it:

I hadn’t been too worried about a postponed handshake, but I found it surprisingly emotional to be virtually-surrounded by a great cloud of women on different stages of this journey, who all took time out of their busy schedules to recognise and celebrate us. It was a witness that we sisters are all, in our different ways, unshaken by the forces which are against us.  Louise

To be upheld in prayer and cheered on by so many sisters was incredibly moving and the words from Crumbs that were chosen and read over us, were so beautiful. It was a very poignant evening in the midst of so much uncertainty.  Amy

I've been thinking about Saturday - and my overriding feeling is a sense of being cheered on. I have felt this to one degree or other since I felt welcomed by women CBA ministers at my first ministers conference, and it was very present on Saturday. Being cheered on, by women who know me and women who don't - and taking my place in cheering on others. Seeing one another's faces and reading the encouragements from those who couldn't be there - hugely valuable. Ruth

We look forward in hope and faith to the day when we can be together ‘in real life’ to celebrate not only the women in our group, but all our sisters and brothers in Christ who have responded to the call to serve as accredited ministers within our Baptist Unions.

The Liturgy

The Recognition (adapted from BUGB 2007 wording)

God gives us life, peace and hope for a journey characterised by faith and struggle. In this we are called to place our trust in the God of cross and resurrection.
Shall we, as Baptist women in ministry honour and affirm these sisters whom Christ has called and equipped for service?

We affirm you as servants of God.
We rejoice in your calling to serve among us.
We commit ourselves to care for you in the service of the Gospel.

The Blessing (Clare Hooper’s blessing in Gathering up the Crumbs)

Voice 1
Our sisters in Christ - 
May you see opportunities to bring hope, healing and peace where others do not
Voice 2
May you have the courage to speak up for those that get overlooked

Voice 3
May you be aware of God’s Spirit at work in the words you speak, the safe spaces you create, and the relationships you build
Voice 4
You are loved by God, may those that encounter you know that they are loved too
Voice 5
May the Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon and be gracious to you
The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

The Toast
We remember Edith Gates and Violet Hedger who pioneered the way
We rejoice in each other as we serve Christ today
Our sisters in Christ, we salute you!

Catriona Gorton is minister of Hillhead Baptist Church, Glasgow

Baptist Times, 13/05/2020
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