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?


Andy Goodliff said...

Simon, I hope you're posts will see some more responses and open up this conversation wider ... a few more (inconclusive) thoughts

I think there is a need to re-read 'The Nature of Council and Assembly' published in 1994 by the Doctrine and Worship Committee, which argues that Assembly is an ecclesial body.

The problem with the current AGM's is we are given 'set-piece presentations' (John Colwell's words from his George Beasley-Murray lecture last year) and questions and deliberation are not really encouraged.

I think the other question is the relationship between BU and BMS. In Scotland, they have ended having joint assemblies, gives more time to deliberation and other stuff. I'm not sure I'd want to go that far, but I think this is something to consider and explore

Graham Doel said...

Simon, thanks for making the debate more open that it would be if it remained behind the closed doors and closed minutes of Baptist House.

Prism has transformed my assembly experience and I'm really grateful for it (even though it does get a little more like a traditional meeting each year). I love assembly for networking, discussion, debate and hanging out in corridors. I guess I'm not a typical Assembly attender, but who is?

I go to the AGM's and don't find them to tedious and think they are well managed and give plenty of opportunity for people to raise issues, which do appear to get listened to and acted on. As for the public deliberation sessions... WHY? They always strike me as a monumental waste of time (*ducks*), and now I don't bother going to them.

I doubt Louise and I would do the 600 mile round trip for an assembly that doesn't give any time for hanging out and meeting up with people I only ever see once a year. For those of us in the North the venues are (apart from the once a decade foray into the north) a pain in the neck.

I guess the things that are important to me are the relationships that are formed, maintained and developed year on year. If the assembly could provide more forum for that I'd be a happy bunny, but I'm probably in a minority.

simon said...

thanks for the nice comments on Prism. i agree with you that it's been getting more traditional each year. i think the introduction of sung worship was probably a backwards step!

I'm not sure how unusual you are among ministers in suggesting that you come to the Assembly to hang out in corridors. I think lots of us come to catch up with mates and get a handle on what's happening elsewhere in the Baptist family.

A shorter Assembly will clearly not help facilitate that.

Neil said...

Thanks for this Simon. My own comments would be:

One of the difficulties with Assembly is that there is diversity in what people feel the important elements are and organisational decisions will tend towards compromise; that's not a bad thing but we need to recognise it.

I'm with Andy in wanting to see more deliberation; the challenge is how that can be managed in an event of 2000 people. Nevertheless there is something very baptist about seeking the mind of Christ together and looking for ways that different voices can be heard and reflected on which is a wider issue than simply how we conduct the AGM's.

The practical issues of venue and timing are important. In recent years we have come as a family and have to balance taking kids out of school with missing the Friday evening; I for one would be happy with a 9am start on Saturday morning and a finish on Monday morning. I also agree that public resolutions sessions do sometimes feel like an invititation to vote against sin.

E. Mergence said...

Time to take a lesson from across the pond? The corporate efficiency of the operation does not attract me, but there is something to be said for his theology.

'His God is a benevolent God. “God is for you, not against you,” he said. “There is a whole lot taught about God is going to get you and throw you in hell. I don’t believe that. I don’t teach fire and brimstone.”

But, he warned, “We suffer the consequences of our choices and there is a final judgment that God will execute on human society.”'

More: Link

Anthony said...

Interesting thoughts, I must admit to feeling slightly different, perhaps because it’s my first assembly.

Prism worked - but was badly impaired by venue and tech.

I also have to say that I found the deliberation sessions one of the more encouraging parts of the weekend. Rather than being a wknd of hearing the familiar inspirational messages, fleeting conversations and hyped worship that can be the all too familiar pattern of such events (though I’m not saying that was the case…). I felt the deliberation session was a step in the right direction towards encouraging/equipping us Baptists to do something significant on our return.
However I do agree they would need some major tweaking to make them work fruitfully. Perhaps more substantial subjects but also how about dumping some of the seminars and have themed sessions through which BU/BMS can tap the ideas and thinking of the Baptist churches represented. Present some information, and then a facilitated discussion.
It’s a thought, not perhaps a fully refined one but I see the possibility for these to be used better.
That said… it seems I’m definitely in the minority…….

Anonymous said...

As much as I'd like more deliberation too, as I think it does reflect our Baptist identity, I'd have to ask questions about its usefulness. Beyond a statement that "this Assembly agrees..." what value is there?

Nothing agreed at Assembly could be enforced on churches, and might it not be true to suggest that our Baptist way of discerning God's will is located normally within the context of the local church, not a national gathering?

I think there is a something of an identity crisis going on. Is it an event for (mainly pastors) to gather, be inspired, shaped up and given the vision for the coming year? In which case, run it midweek over 2 days, that way it won't affect weekend ministry, and minimises inconvenience on families.

Is it a family gathering, for a wide cross-section of the Baptist family? If so run it over the long weekend, with plenty of coverage for the children (which, it has to be said, has improved greatly in the last 2 yrs), and locate it in the most accessible parts of the country - avoiding southern coastlines!

I too wonder how different next year will be. So far away, it's likely that many people won't be arriving until late after they've finished work and travelled, so probably not connecting with the Assembly until Saturday morning, then leaving Sunday evening - it's a long way for not much time together.