Last weekend was Baptist Assembly, the annual gathering of churches from across the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Our minister Leigh and her husband Mike were delighted to be able to join on the Saturday. Mike shared a little about the day as part of last week's service, and you can hear him on the recording. Here Leigh shares some of her reflections.
I have been attending Baptist Assembly regularly since I started training for ministry, and it is always a wonderful opportunity to hear different stories and voices from around the union, and to catch up with colleagues from across the country. The day began with four speakers reflecting on the Great Commission, Jesus' command to "go and make disciples". There is a brilliant write up on the Baptists Together website, which does a far better job than my scant notes could, and I highly recommend giving it a read. I was particularly moved by Glen Graham's thoughts about "inclusive justice, vulnerable evangelism, beautiful people", and I'm only sorry that the written words can't fully capture the fire with which he spoke.
There was then the chance to split off into different seminar groups. I heard the Joint Public Issues Team speak on building relationships between church and state, an interesting topic for Baptists as we have historically argued for a separation of the two. The point here though is not that they should be one and the same, but that there can be dialogue between them. This is something we are exploring at Stoneygate Baptist at the moment, reflecting on how we can talk well about politics with one another and how we might then go on to speak well into the political arena. I also heard Change Makers talk about engaging with the digital world, and it sparked a few ideas that I hope to explore in the coming months, so keep an eye out for some online creativity.
The seminars were followed by the BMS presentation which Mike spoke about last week, and the BUGB session which included a standing ovation for our retiring treasurer. General Secretary Lynn Green spoke with great enthusiasm about some of the many things to celebrate within the Baptist family, outgoing president Hayley Young shared both blessing and pain from her year in the role, and incoming president Tim Presswood gave a flavour of his theme with a startling and moving poem which imagined what it might look like to share Christ's great banquet.
The day closed with a celebratory service, in which Bishop Mike Royal spoke about our legacy as Baptists. It was really encouraging to hear someone from outside our tradition tell our story back to us, especially at such a crucial moment in our shared life. As a union we are currently engaged in a consultation about a proposed change to the ministerial rules, and the feelings in both directions are so strong that sometimes it feels we might pull ourselves apart. And yet I came away with a strong sense that "God has grace enough for all of this", that there is a way through that is rooted in our past and will carry us into our future. Whether we find it and whether we choose to take it are down to us, but this weekend gave me renewed hope.
The highlight of the assembly for me also came in the evening celebration, with the commissioning of those who have been recognised as fully accredited ministers in the past year. This is colloquially known as "getting your handshake", as the ministers are greeted by the General Secretary of the Baptist Union, the General Secretary of BMS World Mission, and the President of the Baptist Union. Having arrived at Stoneygate Baptist as a newly accredited minister, this year it was my turn to get my handshake. I was entirely unprepared for how emotional it would be, but by the time the congregation started singing the priestly blessing over us (and how gloriously Baptist to have those words sung to rather than by the ministers!) I was overwhelmed by a deep sense of recommitting myself to serve God and the kingdom through the Baptist family, with all the joy and heartache that comes with it. See if you can spot me in the official photos. My rainbow dress, chosen as a nod to the commitment to inclusion which has been so important to my call and my ministry, should make it easy!