by Leanne Swift
I love being a part of the Baptist Union (BU), that we are a part of something bigger, there is this network of churches all individual and yet linked. Back in May of this year I had the joy of attending my first ever Baptist Assembly, an annual event where those who are a part of the union can come together in one venue. (You may have spotted Jade, Jenny and I on the Sunday livestream!)
For me the greatest part of the event was seeing the diversity of our denomination! It’s easy to forget when doing our own little thing in our local churches that there is anything beyond our own activities and services. We are privileged that Hope and Burnham are linked so closely, with Rob and Jade supporting one another and seeing members of each church at one another’s events, it is a small taste of the wider world of the BU.
At Assembly the wide variety of churches were represented, from rural to urban, larger churches and smaller churches, those who worship in a more traditional style and those who are a more contemporary in their style. The overall theme of the weekend was listening well, alongside building a bigger table, it was clear how wide a range of theological stances there are within our union, aside from the declaration of principles each church has the freedom to discern for themselves where they stand on any given topic, but at the same time that is our strength, not a weakness, and while at times that may be tricky to navigate and steward, it reminded me of the passage in Ecclesiastes 4:12 “a cord of three strands is not easily broken”.
Lynn Green who is the general secretary of the BU opened the weekend with the reminder that we should listen to each other well in love and with Grace, accepting that we all may have different experiences and that we discern for ourselves where God leads us on any given issue. A point that was key throughout the conference as issues around racial justice, disability justice, sexuality and other issues of inclusion were boldly spoken about. It was encouraging to see both sides represented and joining in deep yet loving conversations on navigating these areas.
One of the many wonderful things to see was the work that Baptist Mission Society is doing, of particular note was the work alongside the European Baptist Association administering aid throughout Ukraine at the moment. Ukraine hosts the largest number of Baptists and Baptist churches in Europe they have been ideally placed to get aid and support where it is needed straight away as the network was already in place. BMS has also been working hard to enable culturally sensitive mission work, empowering those who already reside in the local area to spread the gospel and minister God’s love where they are.
Although only a two-day conference, it was packed full of inspiring and informative talks, the installation of this year’s president Hayley Young who’s focus is on inclusion with the theme “building a bigger table”. All of the live streamed talks are available to watch for free and can be found on the BUGB website or Facebook. (if you are having trouble finding them let me know and I’ll send you a link).
Alongside the talks a whole host of resources and experts in various areas of church life and mission were on hand ready with advice on everything from hosting interns, insurance, safeguarding, being a church treasurer, engaging with new housing estates and so much more, and of course the book and gift shop….who could resist a few new books to read and pictures for the house!
If I (and I hope we) can take anything away from events like Baptist Assembly, it is that unity makes us stronger and that we are not on this journey alone, there is so much to engage with and enrich our walk of faith, we need only dig into it and embrace what is going on within the Union.