It was nostalgic being back at Central Hall for the 2012 Baptist Assembly, as I think my first ever Assembly was there in the early 90’s as a college student, though I did perform a drama sketch at an Assembly in the late 80’s and was in & out in less than an hour. Now as Director of the adult sessions I get to sit in on the latter stages of planning with the Assembly Planning Team where the worship design team hand over to the production team. My role at each Assembly is to direct the main stage sessions working with a fabulous team. Over the past 10 years I’ve been involved at every Assembly, and have served in similar roles with the BWA congress in Birmingham and Hawaii, the Youth Congress in Germany, and European Baptist Assembly in Amsterdam. (It sounds glamorous, it’s not. Early starts and late finishes. But there is great fun within the team, and a sense of achievement when things go well. It’s all about a brilliant team).
My musings on this years assembly are limited to the Grand Hall experience alone and particularly the Futures session. Other comments about Assembly 2012 will be shared with the Assembly Planning Team as I’m on it (for half a year) and I’d rather they hear it from me face to face than read it on a blog.
1. My own reflection is that the actual futures process was and is being questioned significantly and openly criticised, which mirrors both the survey results and much of the blogging. There was a sense of disempowerment from many, and a frustration that ‘voices’ are not being heard. Personally I think they are being heard…but there is a difference between hearing, listening and engaging, and then empowering. I am not sure that these questions, comments, and frustrations have really been taken on board? I haven’t seen any significant shift in approach, any major attempt to engage with the ‘voices’ though maybe that’s a little unfair. I’m not sure.
2. I’m also not sure an hour of presentation was as helpful as it was hoped it would be, but was there another way (?) and many people needed bringing up to speed (sadly). Some seemed just confused.
3. I was deeply challenged & personally humbled to hear the cry from those on the fringes to be included, and very pleased to hear some younger voices both in the session and via social media. I have written before of the necessity of having NAMS and emerging leaders as part of the Futures Group process, and recognise the cry of others who find themselves on the margins…again. I did hear that every association is to organise an opportunity to engage with NAMS and emerging leaders so welcome that move.
4. Perhaps the next phase needs to be a real determined effort to meet face to face with those who are expressing opinions from the margins, and those who clearly feel disaffected and patronised? Or at very least for those with a view to engage face to face with those on Council who represent them or know them.
5. Any change within the process can only come from those who sit at the Futures Group discussion. If I heard the sentiments of the Assembly session and from reading blogs, discussions etc correctly then ‘no change’ to the process and make up of the Group is unacceptable? I realise Council appointed the group…..but I believe Council have not grasped the opportunity to send a strong message that expresses the desire to engage in a new way. I have yet to meet many who think the make up of the Futures Group is right and believe that this challenge has to be recognised and responded to. Who else can make the decision? Is the Futures Group paralysed by fear? Pray for them. Encourage them.
6. The loudest applause of the session arose from Tony Campolo’s comment about how “ridiculous” it is that there are 2 separate organisational bodies like BMS and BUGB.
I believe Campolo did oversimplify the issue.
There is so much that is different between BMS and BUGB and much of that will rightly (I believe), remain for sometime, yet, I do truly long to see a much closer collaboration and sharing of resources and creativity than is currently the case. I am NOT ignoring the inevitable cost to people’s lives here but I am dreaming of a different future. (Earlier blogs state some of my opinions on this). It was good to hear that there is an ongoing discussion about this potential. I hope this remains an important area for debate and deliberation.
7. Fundamentally, there needs to be a significant cultural shift in the way Ministers, church leaders, and congregations see Associating. This was right at the heart of the conversations in the 90’s about change then, and structurally things did change…… but theologically, culturally? We desperately need a recovery of the deep desire to work more closely and rely more fully on one another, both as individual disciples and as local churches. So much potential and yet so much resistance. A cultural change does not simply emerge from structural change or a financial review and shift, but develops from a long term strategy embracing and committing to particular values and theological views. A strategy that will emerge I believe from those emerging with it. And it may take a generation…but the work must start now through colleges and associations and through NAM development.
8. Yes, there needs to be some practical resolutions, but please, not without a VISION of shared future, shared values, and shared covenant commitment to it. We must not miss the opportunity to do the theology or recover some of what has been lost, alongside the important and practical necessities. We heard about and read of some core shared values and principles, likened to the 5 core values, and want to encourage that… keep going, don’t give up on those things.
9. Courage is the much needed characteristic of embracing an unknown future.