There's a very interesting project going on at the moment within Baptist circles, in which 40 baptists from all over the country, and from very different situations are being asked to write a short reflection on the future of the Baptist Union. If the Baptist Union wasn't in a great deal of financial difficulty right now, I suspect this project wouldn't have happened, but I'm not convinced it wouldn't have needed it anyway. I think, if I've gathered it correctly, the point it to creatively reimagine a union for the future; to ask questions about our current structures and to prophetically create a picture of the BU which respects our 400 year history and sets us in good stead for the next 400 years!
I was privileged enough to be one of the 40 who was asked to contribute, and terrifyingly discovered that I would be among the first few to offer my thoughts. However, I am incapable of doing anything in a straight-forward manner, so I decided to write a poem, which attempted to encompass some of the questions I have about the way individual churches and the Union as a whole operates, and imagine a way forward from here. There was some extremely robust discussion surrounding it, for which I am thankful. I've copied the poem below, and hope that this might encourage those who are not a part of the Baptist Church, indeed not a part of the church at all, to join in a conversation about what church looks like today, and what it should look like in the future.
The fact is, at my tender age, I grew up on a different page
I don’t come from a position of tradition or division
Christianity is relatively new to me
But clearly something made me say “Hey, I like the Baptist Way”
Some people may not agree with me, my delivery or the way I see it
Cause I’m not inclined to grieve what is lost if all that is lost is how much it will cost
For this project or that – is that our way of giving back?
People feel like they’re the one nobody cares about
Maybe we could just be there to try and hear them out
Do we really listen to all the pain and the derision?
Do we then take the decision that a group will solve it all?
Is it mission or ambition that makes us count every baptism,
Every seat filled with another… Jesus lover or something other?
Maybe if we’re listening our witnessing won’t look like we’re trying hard at fitting in.
When we look at making changes are we doing it in stages?
When did minister become synonymous with leader?
Cause I thought our leadership came from the Teacher
When did doctrine become synonymous with dogma?
Because I thought my call came from God the Father
Are we open to being Spirit Led?
Or are we limited to being Sunday-fed.
Is this what Smyth and Helwys meant? Have we forgotten about dissent?
Does the extent of our dissent come down to being hell bent on voting rights
Who’s in, who’s out and if we have any doubt?
Can we have the tricky conversations about ‘sticky situations’?
Can we affirm what went before, but move towards a different door?
And on the other side we might find an open mind to other nations, relations, orientations
Building reconciliations to those whose beliefs bring us grief.
Maybe a Union of the future would facilitate hate for intolerance and love for the other
Maybe a Union of the future would not put themselves above us
But hear voices from the margins because that’s where Jesus stood and if I could I would
Want to listen to diversity not just you and me who studied Moltmann’s philosophy
Yet when I look at who shapes us it’s the same old faces
It’s the voices that I’ve heard before pointing towards the same old doors
We talk about priesthood of all believers; that God speaks through whom God will
But still do we hear those whom we fear, or steer clear of potential controversy?
The tree of Jesse grew out of a stump
Yet when it comes to inspiration, is the best we can do *Phil Jump?
To single out the names of people who can ‘lead’, succeed, exceed every standardised test,
Is that what’s best? What about the rest?
Who holds the Union up? The academics or the ones who make the cup
Of tea or coffee for the likes of you and me?
If we’re looking for a future that is brand new and improved, maybe it’s our attitude
Must we talk about ingratitude?
Maybe in our conversation we need a little variation
Could it be our idea to be here, to be a listening ear,
And not provide answers but ask the right questions?
Perhaps in all this confusion we could kill the institution and stay true to the movement
Moving forward a little more would give us room for the improvement
That is needed to succeed and find the future that we need.
So join in. Church isn't what it's supposed to be. We've messed it up in a whole host of ways - how do we go about redeeming it, and bringing it back to being a community of liberators, empowerers and radicals?
*Phil Jump, Regional Minister of the North Western Baptist Association (and all round stand up guy) has given permission for his name to be used.