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?


Anonymous said...

Has there ever been a Baptist Assembly somewhere "central" where all UK Baptists have got together? I suspect the issues you raise are common to all(?) Baptist Assemblies. Margaretx

catriona said...

Holding Baptist Assembly somewhere central has, according to my peeps, happened in living memory - they talk about when it came to Leicester (and I don't think they mean the BWL rally pre 1960...).

I'd be all for a central Assembly which ought to mean more could attend. I'd like a longer Assembly (though it may exclude as many as it attracts - would non-ministers take a week's leave to attend? Would churches release their ministers for a whole week?) but I think the danger is it would be come 99% jamboree and 1% deliberation, reflection and theology (as distinct from the current ~3.33%!!).

I don't think you'll ever win on this one - but its good people keep trying.

simon said...

The famous 1989 (I think) Assembly where the Baptist family voted to join Churches together was in Leicester.

It has also been at Nottingham University within the past 25 years.

And, of course, there was the one day gathering in Birmingham the year of the BWA Congress.

I suspect Catriona is right, lengthening the event would lose as many as it would attract. But I'm not sure it would necessarily be all jamboree - that would be down to the planners.

You could have deliberation sessions each morning that worked on an issue and sought to come to a common mind over the week. So we'd have to be deliberating about things that mattered.

Andy Goodliff said...

thinking of the top of my head, perhaps we should have every 10 or 5 years like the anglicans with lambeth a longer meeting which does some more of the reflective deliberative work as well as having celebration stuff. people could come for some or all.

Anthony said...

many of the comments posted so far do not reflect the majority of the people in our churches. As I suspect (know) they wouldn't attend assembly to catch up with mates. Assembly will be more sustainable with a wider appeal and as Simon rightly points out more people attend New Wine /Spring Harvest than Assembly.
A central location and combined leading edge/ Assembly is a great idea..... as it's exactly what i put on my assembly feedback form!!!
could this be a likeness of great minds, or are we seldom differing fools....regardless i think it's the best way forward.

Angela said...

The Assembly was in both Nottingham AND Leicester in the early 1970s, when I was a student. But in those days, there were very few attending under the age of 30 -and no families.
And by the way, Catriona, the BWL Rally was actually quite good - there used to be crowds of women[many wearing hats]turning up in coaches and they DID come to meet up with old friends as well as hear a decent sermon. Some of us still lament the demise of the Women's Department!

Baptist Billy said...

Ah, you "midlanders", depends what you mean by "centrally" - the forgotten north after years of persuasion got the Assembly to Bradford in 1987 and to Blackpool and Bridlington in the 1990's