Monday, 7 May 2012

Some thoughts on assembly

Well it's been a rather long weekend, and I'm still not quite back in the valley up north, but during my short stop over in Birmingham, I thought I'd spend some time reflecting on my second Baptist Assembly. I'm sure I'm just adding to many others out there already, and for what it's worth, Andy Goodliff has written much of what I want to say in his own post (here), but I hope that by echoing some of what he's said, the appropriate people might take notice, and see that those young people that the assembly wishes to engage and listen to, are indeed sharing their opinions.

  • Firstly, I too wish to express my disappointment at the 'bookshop' at assembly. What a load of claptrap. To find Wayne Grudem sitting on the shelves at our annual gathering whilst the union is trying to affirm women in ministry seems to send mixed messages to me. Are we encouraging our ministers in particular, and our churches in general, to read theology, to read about their baptist history, to read the work their baptist colleagues are writing? Or are we just wheeling out the crowd pleasing rubbish that doesn't really challenge anyone to think too hard about anything?

  • I know it's going to be unpopular, but what's the deal with Tony Campolo? He was a stand up comedian at best. And he wasn't funny to anyone under the age of 30. Seriously, don't make the point in one breath that more young people should come to assembly, and those young people should share the main services, and then in the next breath invite Tony Campolo to speak. Perhaps the reason younger people (young ministers especially) aren't interested in assembly is because we're still interested in the bible and in theology, and it seems to me that assembly doesn't seem too worried about engaging with that. Ironically, I think it was Tony Campolo that decided it was ludicrous for the young people to have a separate meeting. Hilarious.

  • It gets my back up when people complain about the futures process. Mainly because I've been following it quite closely and so it's become an issue that's quite close to my heart. I know I'm privileged to have access to a computer, and being in my 20s means that I can use all the technology needed to access as much information as is out there. And I get that some people feel that it's not that easy for them or their churches to get the information. The thing is, like many others, I'm the minister of an older congregation, many of whom are not on the internet and don't have computers. And yet my congregation know what's going on with the Union; they know about the deficit, they know there's discussions going on about the reshaping of the Union, they know that associations are going to look different soon, they know that Didcot will be shrinking, they know Home Mission grants will be changing. They know all this, not because of the internet, not because of the (excellent) beyond 400 blog, not because of Phil Jump's regular emailed updates and prayer calls, and not because the BUGB website has published all the papers and conversations on their website (though all of these things are helpful, and have been made available to them). They know what's going on because I talk about it. All the time. I tell them where things are and where things are going. I let them know what I've heard and what's being said. And I ask them what they think. Because if I'm talking to them about it, when they surveys come round, we can fill them in, together, and have some sort of consensus about what we think about all of this as a church. I can't help but feel if a church doesn't know what's going on, it's more of a reflection on the minister, rather than the futures group.

  • Not a big fan of the day conferences. Not because the one I went to wasn't engaging and interesting (it really was - the Whitley lecture was as excellent as always), but because it meant there was a lack of space. There wasn't time for conversation with others. Between Saturday being taken up by your choice of conference, and finishing on Sunday evening rather than Monday morning, it felt like there wasn't a lot of time to reflect on what was being said/heard. I think I'd prefer to go with the shorter and more varied options, allowing people to dip in and out during the day.

  • The lack of time to converse meant that I actually really appreciated the tweeting. It meant I was able to hear the opinions and thoughts of people in real time, who were sitting on the other side of the room. If we're going to pack that much into the weekend, I think it might be wise to keep some kind of virtual conversation going. However, I would prefer it if we didn't have to substitute real conversation with tweeting. Given the choice, I think I'd rather have the have the space to talk to other people in reality, rather than tweeting.

  • I think on paper London was a really good idea, but in practice it was a bit of a disaster. It was way out of our price range as a church, which meant we had to stay in a youth hostel. It was pretty disgusting, but we took the hit because we feel it's really important for the church to be represented at assembly. I got slightly annoyed at people talking about churches not coming to assembly, when it was a massive sacrifice for smaller churches north of Birmingham to be there. Travel was expensive, accommodation was expensive, food was expensive. And it was faaaaar. 2 hours from Rossendale to Tamworth (to drop the dog at the in-laws), 3 hours from Tamworth to London. Another hour from the station to where we were staying. I was tired before we'd even started the Assembly! Some of the other guys from the valley flew. Our budget didn't stretch to that. I don't know if there were people there who came from further north than East Lancs, but if they did, kudos to them, cause I'm not going again if it's in London.

  • Aradhna was awesome. I'm so impressed that assembly had them. More of that. I would have preferred that to Noel Robinson and his band. The band were great, but I'd like to see us stretch ourselves to learn new things and open ourselves to new experiences more often, rather than singing the same songs ad infinitum. And seriously, what's the thing with repeating lines and choruses of songs for ever and ever amen? It doesn't get more holy the more you sing it. You wanna know what'll get the youth interested? Aradhna. Something that's a bit different. Music that's an experience. We're a generation looking for spirituality, we're a generation that travels, and wants a connection with different cultures. More of that please.

  • This was the last George Beasley Murray lecture. I have nothing to say except how sad that it. And I really, truly hope that it'll be replaced by something equally as engaging and informative, which still gives voice to our brightest and best Baptist theologians.

Anyway, I think that's quite enough of that. I can only hope that after sitting through an entire session of people saying there weren't any young people present, and we need to hear the voices of the under 30's (must admit that was a little disenfranchising), that we'll actually do something about that, and  some people will start listening to those of us in the union who are screaming at the top of our lungs.


  1. Well said! When I was on the planning committee I tried to stop the use of importing 'big names' when we have many superb speakers and preachers. Why limit Chris Duffett to 20 minutes? I often felt I was banging my head against a brick wall! I assume that 'they' think the big names attract more folk whereas I'm attracted by meeting friends and conversations after hours.

  2. Thanks Rowena, some important points.

    Did anyone come from furhter north than you - yes, I did, substantially further! I got home about 5 pm monday having left my host at just after 9 a.m. I could not get home on Sunday night,I'd missed the last train (except a sleeper to an outlying station arriving at 6 a.m......)

    Regarding the book stall, I understand what both you and Andy are syaing... but compared with the other Assembly I attend that was one good book stall! At least it wasn't all 'Banner of Truth' stuff.

    Totally agree on the big names. And agree with Sue, I could have listened to Chris Duffet for longer.

    The good thing is that most of us are already saying we will be back next year - Blackpool is only about 4 hours travel for me! If we are all committed to Assembly, and committed to trying new things and risking them not working, then that's got to be encouraging.

  3. Thanks for the reflections on this year's assembly. I wasn't there as 1) I'm just moved to a new pastorate, and 2) it was in London. When will they realize that London is a big put off for many?

    Personally I wonder whether the denomination should even be persisting with several day Assemblys, considering the cost etc. Surely it would be possible to do something like they did in 2005 - a one day event in Birmingham (pretty central for most people and travelable in a day by car or public transport). Then at regional Assemblys have one session on Union matters etc. This could cut down on costs, travel and hopefully encourage engagement too.

    A one day event could include the necessary legalities (AGM of BUGB and BMS etc), a short opening worship session, afternoon session sharing stories, and welcoming accredited ministers, new churches etc. and then a closing worship and talk by BUGB president. Assuming a start time of 10.00am, it could be over by 7.00pm, which would be early enough for many to get home that night. At worst it would be an overnight stop for some.

    Also considering what I've heard about numbers this year, how about using a large church venue to keep costs down. Considering the restructuring surely spending on Assembly also needs to be seriously looked at.

    /rant ;-)

  4. Hi Rowena
    I'd REALLY like to meet you; I'm in my second year as a NAM in Wales and doing a PhD at IBTS ... maybe we can have a skype conversation?
    Rosa Hunt

  5. Can't disagree with much of what you say.

    Part of me thinks it's not just good, but essential that we do these things in London once in a while. It stops us slipping into parochialism, there is an energy about London which does not exist anywhere else, and if Londoners have to trek all the way to Blackpool or Plymouth, why not the other way round?

    Actually, for me the thought of going to London is always worse than the actuality. I dread the thought of going - have done for 2 years since I worked out that this would be 'handshake' year. Yet once I get there i love it.

    But you're right - it's so damn expensive. Much more than is reasonable to expect my church to fork out. Much more than most of them could easily afford, hence very few of them came. It's why I only came for the one session. The fact that it was also Cup final weekend didn't help. I'll take the hit on the hotel myself, partly cos it was a lot nicer than I get in Blackpool or Plymouth.

    And I'm mostly with you and Andy on Tony Campolo. What did that have to do with the text we had shared? And it's not just a porblem with Campolo - I've witnessed a few 'names' 'preach' without scripture being opened at all, which worries me. I'm someone who has engaged with Campolo down the years, but now, and this is not an age thing, it's like visiting my Grandad and knowing how the conversation is going to go from one week to the next.

    Despite myself, I enjoy assembly, particularly the conversations, feel like I have missed something in not really being at it, but am not sure I'd have got that much more out of the day conferences, if there was no time for proper conversation.

  6. Loved your blog even if I dont agree with it all! Campolo is the only person I have heard say boldly and publicly to those against women ministers that they should get over it! Just one thing... Why knock the worship? Aradna are great - I bought a cd and will use it in my church but they sing repetitive songs too. P.s. Do you really spend all that time talking to your people about this stuff??? #givethisgirlamedal

    1. I wasn't trying to knock the worship - the band were clearly very talented. The difference is, Aradhna were using repetition to try and help us to tap into a different culture, and a different mode of worship. I don't find this tedious, in the same way I don't find taize tedious. I don't think it's the same deal with spring harvest type worship songs. I think when we sing those over and over and over it's just inane. And I clearly wasn't the only person who thought so, as was evidenced by people sitting down out of boredom/frustration. The fact it wasn't my thing doesn't mean I'm knocking it, just that I would have liked to see us trying something different and stretching ourselves a little further than "our God is an awesome God".
      And I'm afraid it's true that I really do talk to my church about futures all the time. In fact, next Sunday's evening service has been replaced by a discussion about all the things I learned at the futures update at the assembly.

    2. I agree that Campolo's line about women in ministry was great ... we all clapped and cheered, but we know the reality is different (he seemed not to!) ...

  7. Enjoyed your blog - wasn't there so can't comment. We have 3 children under 7 and there was nothing put on for them this year. Really sad to have missed it - but to me a London assembly doesn't even seem a good idea on paper.