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.


andy goodliff said...

what business? when does that happen? i would potentially say too little place for deliberation and discussion takes place, and too much of addresses encouraging the troops for another year.

I agree we need a proper debate on it

Marcus Bull said...

Yes please. Let's have the debate.

Anthony said...

Having attended assembly for the first time this year, I came away confused about its identity. Part conference. Part super-business meeting. Part joyous celebration. Part seminar. Part resource exhibition. It was trying to be too many things in too little time. Something that will only be exacerbated by its move to Plymouth and shortening it. Agree it needs a major re-think if it is to carry on, and 2010 assembly might just force the issue. Perhaps all Baptists should get together for a really big meeting to discuss the future of assembly…mmmm…..

Anonymous said...

A debate would be great (so long as it is not part of the next assembly!). My own thought is that Assembly does not represent the union, it simply represents those who (a) enjoy these jamboree type events and (b) have the resources to pay for travel, accomodation etc.

Martin said...

Kudos to Simon for raising these important questions... Let's extend the Kingdom by re-shaping it, not just leaving it in the same (poor) condition as we found it.

Angela said...

I was really sad to miss the Assembly this year- and consoled myself that there is always next year - but somehow I cannot justify the costs of travelling all that way [time and money and carbon footprint]for such a short time. We DO need to debate this one some more

Tim said...

I quite agree with Simon. We find it hard enough to justify the costs of coming to Assembly at the best of times, but a round trip of 570 miles for a two day meeting is just not viable.

As for Assembly itself, it is a strange hybrid. On the plus side, there is a developing sense that it needs to represent the range of Baptist life. The introduction of Prism/ the Open Space - and last year's Kaleidoscope exhibition are all positive developments.
On the negative side, there is still a sense that "Assembly" happens in the main auditorium. Those of us who choose to opt out of that seem to "miss out."
I personally don't view Prism as 'alternative' - that implies that it is not 'mainstream.' I think all the different strands should be given a much more even weight.
The exhibition does give Assembly a feel of a business conference - the fact that I found at least one of the stands shockingly offensive added weight to that as it felt as though they were so desperate for income that no one actually vetted the applications for a stand.
I do still there should be an opportunity for Baptists from across the denomination and across the country to get together and celebrate what we have in common. But I don't think it looks like what we did in Bournemouth.