Assembly 2012 musings

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.


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14 Responses to Assembly 2012 musings

  1. jjames43 says:

    Thank you John for all that you did at Assembly; the efforts of all your team are very much appreciated. Thank you too for taking time to write your “musings”. I know that What Tony Campolo said was simplistic about the uniting of BUGB and BMS World Mission. I also know as a member of BUGB Council and a former member of BMS General Committee (as it was then) that it is a complicated business BUT nevertheless I for one felt that it was a prophetic word that needs testing at every level.

    I do believe that if we were starting from scratch in establing a “Baptist mission work” in the UK we would not have two separate organisations. It is one mission and consideration needs to be given as a matter of urgency about how both sides of the house in Didcot can cooperate even more closely.

    That also leads on to reflect on the work of the fellowship of British Baptist that are meeting today. They need to give a lead on closer cooperaton on all our work in these Islands. I am longing to see one Mission to Wales, for instance. Now that is going to be tough!

  2. If we were starting from scratch I doubt we would have BMS / BUGB and I’m sure we wouldn’t have Central Resource + Associations. But given that we start from here, I think we need to ponder why people think it is a good idea to merge.

    I suspect the sense that BMS is a world class organisation with a clear strategic focus, the ability to provide leadership and a compelling mission story is the thing people warm too, in contrast to the perception that the Union is out of touch, uncertain, bureaucratic and not very mission focused. But while perceptions matter they are not the whole story.

    I’m sure that BMS & BUGB (&BUS & BUW for that matter) need to work more closely together. As far as possible we need light, flexible structures, to avoid unnecessary duplication and so on. But joining BUGB & BMS together would fundementally change both organisations. Is it really worth the cost of culture change in BMS that would be required and would the new structure be clearly better than the old one?

    • jonstannard says:

      Personally I am not convinced about a “merger” or a “marriage” whatever that means, but I do believe that there needs to be a much much closer working relationship and sharing of resources and creativity.

  3. Jenny Few says:

    Jon, I saw you from a distance on Sunday (my only day at Assembly this year) and was aware of the hard work and professionalism of your whole team – so thanks.

    Thanks too for your reflections here on events in the main hall, especially on the Futures Conversation. I found it a frustrating and painful couple of hours and its hard to know how to respond in ways that are both constructive and supportive of all the people working hard on our behalf, while at the same time wanting to protest! The inclusivity thing won’t go away, but how could it when the FG itself is unrepresentative of the Union, and many people feel they are not being heard? BME chruches and leaders, many women, some churches (especially those without ministers or others au fait with blogs and websites) and younger leaders all feel excluded from the process because they are not represented on the FG or the Steering Group.
    You say that the FG was appointed by Council, but actually it was not. We were presented last November with a fait accompli which we ‘approved’, whihc is not the same as being appointed by Council! Council working groups and committees are normally appointed with far more care in terms of representation than this was! I agree with Andy G who rightly says that this has all got a lot bette rin recent years, thought still a long way to go.

    But the Futures Group was not put together by Council. Of course there is a need for expertise, etc etc but it also needs creative thinkers, prophets, those new to all things BUGB – the so-called voices from the margins. The real tragedy as I reflect more on this is that so many still feel and in fact know themselves to be marginalised, as Kumar ands others so eloquently expressed it. The phrase ‘Baptist Family’ really does jar in these circumstances. After many years of 5 Core Values we should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.

    Well, perhaps it will all improve after Sunday….
    I’m rather dispirited and if I’m honest rather dreading the June Council meetings.
    Must pray hard between now and then!

    PS Personally I did not enjoy Tony Campolo’s input into that session – it felt like a diversionary tactic, designed to deflect from the hard things that had been said, and provide some light relief to make us all feel OK again. It was shallow and unnecessary. I am with all those who are saying why do we need to have big name non Baptist speakers? Maybe I’m just prejudiced by those who said he shouted too much and told funny stories on Saturday night.

    • jonstannard says:

      Hi Jenny, thank you for that clarification about the Futures Group and Council. I am sure I read somewhere that they were appointed from council rather than a faiti compli. I am disappointed that council did not have more to say about the FG makeup then, but perhaps it was a rabbit in the headlights moment.

      You need to know that I did not believe that Tony Campolo was the right person to be a ‘listener’ which is how he was described. I felt he was an inappropriate choice. I said so. But was ignored.
      Though his comment about BUGB and BMS was I believe a good moment as I said in my blog. (and previous).

      Thanks again, we are prayerful about the outcomes and the people affected across the Union.

      • Phil J says:

        Thanks John – I find your middle para fascinating – at least you were consulted!! For clarification, the make up of FSG was recommended to council by trustees.Council is controlled by an agenda committee, from what I can gather this group meets in secret, never produces minutes, and most of us have not got a clue who is on it. Many including those nominated were frustrated that proper time was not allowed for council to consider who should be on this group and how things should be done, but trustees chose to put this before council on its last morning. That might be worth bearing in mind when people weigh the comments made by some trustees at the public microphones. I think the real difficulty we face is that while virtually anyone who offers public leadership in our union continues to be shot down by a noisy minority (the vast majority of Baptist Christians couldn’t care less) then things will continue to be done behind closed doors.

      • jonstannard says:

        Thanks Phil, so basically what you’re saying is, there’s not much we can do? And if we offer opinion we are a minority trying to shoot others down? What if we are desperately trying to be helpful because we do care, what do we do? Bless ya.

  4. jjames43 says:

    Jon there is much that we can do:
    1. We can dare to believe in the providence of God. We all still believe in Romans 8:28.
    2. We can pray that the Lord ‘s will is done.
    3. We can speak to those on the Futures Group and share our opinions.
    4. We can also speak to those on Council to represent our various opinions.
    5. We can makes disciples by making Jesus known; in that way whatever happens to BUGB we know the future of his church is secure.
    6. Keep Hope alive!

    • jonstannard says:

      Thanks John. Phil? Any comment?

      • Phil J says:

        I think John J is right – There is a very clear common desire for us to envision and embrace a wholesome future, we need to unite around that. I think the key thing is finding ways to imagine that future together. There will always be those who will need to take a lead in such a process – I think the key thing is to hold them to account to ensure that they are ENABLING every voice to be heard; NOT SPEAKING on behalf of others. I think the other key thing is participation – we can all play a role in both sharing our perspectives, and enabling and empowering others to do the same. The real decisions will be made at the next two council meetings, as John says, it is vital for people to KNOW who represents them on BU council, and to INFORM them of their feelings. My own view is that we need to see beyond the present process – sure it has to be held to account, but it is also about achieving a transition. Some of the great changes in our recent world history have come about because “insiders” have become part of the system, but never lost their belief in a world that can be different. I fear that people might be judged for the perceived role they play in the present situation, rather than the aspirations they have for change. It seems to me vital that we achieve a new way of working in which people from every quarter of our Baptist family are truly heard; might it be worth forgiving perceived flaws in the process provided it get us there? (please note these are entirely personal perspectives, as you have asked for comment)

      • jonstannard says:

        Thanks. I’ll share my views with those who I know on council. But I sense the centre have the control and will drive through with their views. Of course I may be wrong…

  5. birchingtonbob says:

    Hi Jon. Thanks for the post. I was not at conference, but have picked up on some of the comments from blogs etc. Ain’t technology great?! I take what you say about a desire to work together more as associations (or clusters?) but I think the way things have changed is that many more Baptist churches relate and work with the churches in their community – ecumenically rather than denominationally. Association (as many of us we knew it) was from a time when those sorts of links were less developed. We are certainly in interesting times!

  6. Tony Jones says:

    Can I join in (somewhat belatedly – only just found this thread via Jon’s tweets)?
    Birchingtonbob makes an important point. “Associating” was strongest when it was really important to be Baptist, because no-one else wanted to know us. Out here in the sticks at least, Baptist identity is less important to most people, and relations with other Christians in our local area much more significant.
    I STILL think, as I’ve said in a number of other places, that we need to start from scratch in identifying what (if anything) we need Associations and Union for. I keep plugging away at the idea of giving all our Assn and Union staff a month’s paid leave, then asking the churches what (if anything) they’ve missed. THOSE, and only those, are the things we really need Assns and/or Union to be doing.

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