Thursday, May 28, 2009

Squaring the Assembly circle

Great to have lots of comments on the posts about the Assembly. I'm happy to be a conduit of comment into the planning process (and I shall be bundling up the comments I've had and sending them to the project team). Even better, however, would be if those commenting here would also email their thoughts to Baptist House (probably to Mike Quantick, the ever excellent Assembly administrator).

Apart from the good things said about Prism (for which I'm grateful as I am really pleased that in four years it seems to have become an essential part of some people's Assembly), it does seem that one of the key reasons why people go to the Assembly is to catch up with mates. This means that the organised programme is only a part of the reason why people attend.

Now, of course, except by planning less of a programme or scheduling far more free-time within the programme, this attraction of the Assembly is beyond the remit of the project team that puts the programme together. But I think it is a common observation that the programme is too full. And a shorter Assembly will certainly not help with this.

As to the comments on deliberation sessions and AGMs, I suspect that it's here that it is hardest to square the Assembly circle. Some avoid these sessions, preferring to drink coffee and chat with mates while they are on; others come to the Assembly precisely to attend these sessions - everything else being a bonus.

Then, of course, there are those who go to the Assembly to receive a major injection of challenge and teaching. For them the evening celebrations (whether in Prism or the other place) and the Bible studies are the key part of the event. The seminars and special interest groups might also help.

All this suggests to me that the assembly is actually too short at the moment. There is not enough time to catch up with friends, to deliberate properly (after all, we'd need a number of sessions for a debate to lead to a resolution that might then be applied locally to our practice in churches of various styles and hues), to learn about new things happening in the family across the nation - as well as being challenged to live up to our calling as followers of Jesus in the context of celebrations that facilitate encounter and learning.

And while some would say that it's not feasible to think about extending the run of the event - to a week, say - the alternative might be to watch it whither on the weekend vine as we try to cram in too much and leave people increasingly dissatisfied.

So, how about merging the Assembly and Leading Edge and holding the event somewhere in the centre of the country, accessible to a majority of Baptists, where there was both good camping and caravaning (for those inclined) and access to hotels and guest houses? Does such a place exist? Would anyone come? I'm not sure of the answer to either of those questions but it seems to me to be somcthing worth considering if we think the Assembly is worth developing.

And is it worth asking why more Baptists currently go to Spring Harvest and New Wine than the Assembly? Is there anything we can learn from why they choose those events that will help us to plan an Assembly that will attract more people?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Random thoughts about this and that

Getting ready for Sunday has been like pulling teeth this week. Finally finished the morning sermon half an hour ago (that's 7pm on Saturday - I'm usually done by close of play on Friday!) Not sure what that's about - hopefully they're both blinders!

Assembly discussion shaping up nicely but it'd be good to have more voices. There'll be something coming from Baptist House about the timing of next year's Assembly. I think there is a genuine desire to make the experience as positive as possible.

Otherwise, I've been listening to the live Leonard Cohen album, Foals Antidotes and the new Dylan, Together Through Life - all lovely. The Cohen in particular is one of the most life-affirming, uplifting live albums I've ever heard.

And I'm reading lots of stuff for my Sri Lanka trip and new writing project

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More thoughts on the Baptist Assembly

We had a good meeting yesterday with a full and frank exchange of views on issues relating to the Assembly. More will be said about that in due course.

I was I think on reflection fairly called to account for expecting too much of David and Jonathan. So I apologise (publicly as my whinge was public) to them for being unfair. I think they have an almost impossible job balancing all the competing demands and expectations surrounding the Assembly. So let's pray for them and their respective teams.

Andy's comment to yesterday's post is interesting. I think we have three sessions at the assembly that could be described as business - the BUGB and BMS AGMs and the public resolutions session. Now these might not be what Andy means by deliberation but I can't see there being a huge vote among delegates for more of the same. indeed, I spoke to a number of this year's delegates who were asking for less of the same. 'Why can't we have one morning devoted to the AGMs,' said one mate; 'two short ones with coffee in the middle.'

I think this comment and Andy's throws up the need for a debate about what the Assembly is for. At the moment only a tiny proportion of Baptists come - 2,000 out of our 200,000 (not sure about that last figure; no doubt someone will correct me). Given the venues and style of assembly we hold, only a small proportion can come. So that does raise questions about the kind of deliberation we could undertake at an Assembly and what its status would be among the majority of baptists not present to deliberate.

I have long thought the public resolutions session is an exercise in motherhood and apple pie and that no one except the tiny proportion of attendees who take part actually think what we're talking about matters or will change anything. Editors around the country are not holding the front page ahead of Baptists expressing their view on the use of 'mosquitoes' to disperse young people!

So, I'm not sure what kind of deliberation we would sensibly undertake. But let's talk about it.

I think there is probably some value in encouraging the troops for another year. I can only speak about Prism in this regard but I reckon those who came to this year's programme were encouraged to think about their Baptist identity - loosely hung on the five core values - and challenged to think about how knowing who they are will help them to live as disciples of Jesus in their day-to-day contexts. I don't think that's a bad aim and if the outcome is that more churches grasp what it is to be missional communities, then that's a result.

There are limits to what can be achieved in a weekend (does that mean we should have a debate about the length of the gathering), so we need to cut our cloth accordingly and focus on the things that really matter. So, what are they?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Does the future have a Baptist Assembly

I'm off to Didcot for a meeting to talk about the Baptist Assembly. Nothing new there. I've done this on odd days for the past five years. But this promises to be something different.

I think the Assembly is at a cross-roads and possibly doesn't have a future in its current form. The suggestion for next year is an assembly that lasts from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon in Plymouth. Will people from Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, even Leicester, Birmingham and London spend upwards of £250 and risk the weekend traffic jams on the M5 for barely 48 hours worth of Assembling?

I doubt it.

But there's a deeper issue. Why are we inviting people to come at all? The shorter the event, the more dominated it is by business meetings. And my admittedly completely unscientific straw poll among delegates this year and friends who haven't been to the Assembly for a while suggests no one will be travelling great distances for such fare.

And then there's the reason why I'm invited along - Prism, the alternative strand of the Assembly. The question is: can you have an alternative to an assembly that barely lasts two days and is dominated by the business meetings for which we do not offer an alternative (perhaps we should)?

So, I think Baptists need to have a proper debate about the Assembly - what it is, how long it should it be, where we should meet. I wonder if anyone has the energy for such a debate. I wonder if we are really up for a change that will breathe fresh life into this annual gathering of English Baptists.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Moderating comments

Rather usefully, I've learned how to delete comments that are fabulously unhelpful. The anonymous comment left on the post about our U2charist which seemed to be an inordinately long ramble about nothing at all has gone.

I've decided not to moderate comments on this blog because I want people to comment freely. But I reserve the right to delete anything that is against the spirit of the free exchange of views. So if you're passing, please leave a comment but please try not to comment at a greater length than the post you're commenting on.

After all blogs are meant to be conversations not monologues...

Ministry in exile

My article 'The Half-Life of Exiles:Reflections on ministry from the margins' published in Ministry Today is on-line here. I think it reads OK, but I'd be interested to know what others think. So feel free to comment.

Celebrating the faith with Bono

Last night's U2charist was a blast! Ben's right that notwithstanding a couple of technical hitches, the evening went really well.

I'd wondered whether the format would work but about 15 minutes in, I realised it did. I felt myself being caught up in an act of worship, not just enjoying some of my favourite U2 songs. I saw and heard things in familiar U2 tracks that I hadn't really been aware of before because of the context in which I was now hearing them. When it came to breaking bread, I felt I'd been really well prepared to remember and reflect on Jesus' sacrifice for us.

Nearly everyone from our church who came - and that included quite a few retired people - said how much they'd enjoyed it even if U2 wasn't quite their cup of tea. One or two older ladies were even seen swaying their hips and moving to the groove - something they don't usually do in church!

I think Ben's point about putting the words up for all the songs (we only displayed them for some) is a good one. A number of people expressed similar sentiments. I think using concert footage as well as CD tracks and song videos helped to capture something of the immediacy and excitement of a U2 gig. And on Bullet the Blue Sky the 'message' of the song was greatly enhanced by footage of the US gun lobby played on the big screens ahead of Edge's guitar intro. But we do need to put the words up and select which live tracks we use because, as Ben rightly notes, some are quite long.

So all-in-all, I think the format really works. I'd certainly do it again.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Catching up

I've been on blogging lite recently as I'm still catching up on stuff post Spring Harvest and the Baptist Assembly. Why do they happen within a couple of weeks of each other?

I have finally caught up with the study notes for Mark. So this week's should actually be posted this week. I've also begun to think about the two courses I'll be teaching in Sri Lanka in July. News from that troubled island continues to be grim - whether the war is over or not, there'll be fall-out for Tamils for many months.

This morning I'll be reflecting on Psalm 104 in the first of a brief series running up to Pentecost and our church anniversary looking at the work of the Holy Spirit. Today, I'm looking at the role of the Spirit in creation. This is the Sunday version of the material that I'll be using at our next Alternative Wednesday gathering looking at God and Darwin where I'll be reflecting more fully on how we might read scripture in the light of evolutionary science.

We also have our long awaited U2charist this evening. I'm really looking forward to it because I'm intrigued to see whether the format actually works. In preparing for it, I have been struck again by how much theology there is in Bono's lyrics. His biblical allusions are well-known but they are not just scattered randomly in songs, they are part of a quite mature reflection on the way of the world and the call of Christ to a life of discipleship within it.

Now, I'm off to messy church for breakfast and fun, stories and songs - and the chance to see half my leadership pogo-ing with toddlers!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

St Arbucks takes flight

We've just had our first St Arbucks Thursday this evening. And it went really well.

The Starbuck's staff were really hospitable - even offering taster samples and nibbles - and made us very welcome.

we had a rolling PowerPoint featuring five contemporary songs that was accompanied by sheets of lyrics and cards saying who we were and why we were there.

we had a couple of guys who came because of the music and a load of others who came because they were asked by others.

For a first outing, it went really well. We had a great chilled atmosphere and good conversation. I'm looking forward to next month when we're hoping to have live music and more coffee tasting.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Assembly moments

There were lots of highlights for me at the Baptist Assembly this year.

I think chief among them was the way the team that led Prism, who hadn't really worked together in this way before, gelled and produced some really good sessions. It's been gratifying to have some positive feedback as well.

Another highlight was undoubtedly Keith Judson, regional minister in the Midlands, and his two boys playing Keith's song The White Slaves of England. In rehearsal it pretty much moved me to tears; it's a cracking song - it ought to be on a CD and soon (hope you're reading this, Keith).

It was also wonderful to meet and work - as well as dance - with Luran Bethel. She's a thoroughly lovely person, with a great ministry.

One of the curious things about leading Prism is that I have no real sense of what else happened in the BIC over the weekend. I heard snippets about how sessions were going from friends I bumped into and at the 7am ELT breakfast (not one of the highlights!).

I wonder if there still has to be more iuntegration between Prism and what happens in the other place in terms of guests. One thing that disappoints me still is that Jonathan and David didn't just drop in, didn't make it a priority to be at one Prism session. But, I appreciate, Assembly's a busy tiome for them. And perhaps we are not gathering by the seaside to see them.

It was great to catch up with people between sessions, share a beer or lunch with old friends and see how their lives and ministries are going.

All in all, it was a great weekend - one of the best Assemblies I've been to. Now, the question is, will we do it all again next year? Let's sleep on that one for a while...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Just before I close my eyes

Back from the Assembly and we had a great time. Prism got more visitors than ever, the programme rocked and everyone did an amazing job.

reflections to come but I've a week of sleep to catch up on.