Online Assembly 2020
The online Assembly for the Baptist Union of Great Britain took place on 16 September 2020.
Several hundred people tuned into the hour-long event on Wednesday evening, which was broadcast on Crowdcast (a live video platform which allowed for voting) and streamed to our Youtube channel. There were more than 800 individual streams across both platforms.
The evening was an opportunity to hear about and pray for the work of Baptists Together. The Annual Report for 2019 was presented and updates were provided on our work so far in 2020 and our plans for the future.
The event covered some topics required under our constitution, including affirmation of the appointment of the Treasurer and the Moderator of the Trustee Board.
A replay of the evening is available to view either below or on our Youtube channel.
Our five current priority areas
The evening began with General Secretary Lynn giving a short reflection on the feeding of the 5,000 from Luke 9: 12-17, before our current President Yinka Oyekan prayed for the work of Baptists Together. Lynn said this story appears in all four gospels, which highlights its importance. It shows God chooses to need us and use use; we are invited to participate in God's mission.
After collecting the loaves and fish, the disciples said "we have only" this. We can be like that, said Lynn - we can often fall into 'a scarcity mindset'. However, when we offer the little we have, which seems barely enough, that leads to multiplication, and Jesus does amazing things. We have to put what we can do in God's hands.
By the end, there was an amazing abundance - the disciples ended up with more than when they started. Over the past year, Lynn said, while we haven't seen such an abundance, we have seen God's generous provision across Baptists Together.
'He's given us more than enough. Time and again we look back and say "God was faithful, He did provide." This was the case for 2019 - He provided for us in ways we couldn't have imagined.'
'As we look now and into 2021, we have an opportunity to raise our faith,' she continued. 'To put what we have into Jesus' hands, to deepen our faith and trust in our God who provides, and who provides abundantly.'
Following Yinka’s prayer, Lynn continued by reminding us of our vision – Growing healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission.
‘Never has that been more important than now!’ she said.
‘We want to see growth, new disciples coming to faith. We want to see growth in deepening of discipleship – that’s what we’re praying for, that’s what we’re working for. We want to be in relationship with one another – and this time of pandemic has shown how much we need each other. We need each other’s encouragement, support, prayer – that sense of common purpose when things are difficult.’
Lynn said that even though there are those practical needs, being in relationship reflects the nature of God. ‘It’s not just a nice-to-have – it’s who God is and what God invites us into. We want to reflect the nature of God in the way we relate together, and the way we relate to others.
‘And of course, we want to participate in God’s mission. That’s one of the main reasons we come together as Baptists.’
We may be in uncertain times, but God’s mission is unchanging, she continued. ‘He wants to see the transforming of lives and communities. We want to see the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ shared, embodied and proclaimed.’
There are four things we do as Baptists Together, 'year in, year out'. These are: equipping churches for mission; investing in Godly leadership, pioneering and planting, and enabling voices and action in the public square.
‘Dual operating system’
Lynn spoke about the opportunities and tensions faced by being a historic movement such as Baptists Together in a world of modern charity compliance.
On the one hand we are 'a collaborative peer movement which shares a common identity and in which life and innovation bubble up. We’re able to be flexible and responsive to make way for what God’s doing.'
On the other hand the Baptist Union of Great Britain is a network of 2000 distinct charities, which operate locally, regionally and nationally. Each charity operates in a covenantal way. Each one has to fulfil its legal, charitable responsibilities.
These are two ways of being ‘that we often inhabit at the same time,’ Lynn said, explaining that we’ve been engaging in a new way of looking at things, called the 'dual operating' approach.
‘We need to think more carefully about when we’re being movement, when we’re being charitable, and how these two things interrelate. It’s helping us see our way forward, make the most of opportunities and minimise some of the tensions.
‘One of the important things we’ve come to realise is that our charitable way of relating must always serve and equip the movement of local churches. We need to hold in creative tension these two ways of being.’
For more information on the dual operating system, see here.
Following Lynn’s introduction there were two short resolutions; the first to affirm the appointment of Alastair Mitchell Baker as Moderator of the Baptist Union of Great Britain; the second to affirm the appointment of John Levick as treasurer of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
Those who had registered were able to vote using the technology on Crowdcast. Both resolutions were affirmed.
Speaking to Alastair, Lynn said, ‘Thank you very much for all you do, you give so much as a volunteer. We value your wisdom, and you’re such a good encourager.’
Following the second resolution, Alastair said, ‘We really value all that John does – and indeed all the treasurers of all the sister charities that make up Baptists Together – they put a huge amount of unseen time into serving their charity.’
Report from the treasurer
John Levick presented the Annual Report for 2019, and proceeded to give a summary of our accounts. Total income was down five per cent from 2018 to 2019, with the Home Mission appeal, the largest portion of the income, down by one per cent to £3.78m. While the Home Mission fall may seem ‘inconsequential’, this continual slow reduction over time, taking inflation into account, means our ability to fund churches, mission projects, Associations and Specialist Teams will reduce by 20 per cent in real terms over a ten year period, John explained.
Legacy income was down in 2019, and John commended the will writing service we offer, which could help to address that. Investment income was down, reflecting lower interest rates and the injection of funds into the pension scheme. Income from the Baptist Union Corporation was up. John said that all expenditure had reduced.
John said that our available funds amounted to around one year’s expenditure. Nevertheless, they had enabled us to respond in two significant ways across our Baptist family. The first was in 2019, when the Office for Students rejected Spurgeon’s College’s application, which resulted in students being unable to access loans. We put in place funds to enable the students to start their studies while Spurgeon’s lodged a successful appeal.
This year the Trustees agreed to set aside £1m for grants to churches which have been particularly impacted financially because of Covid-19. We have given grants to 20 churches, with only one application declined because it didn’t fulfil the criteria. There was a large Home Mission giving drop in April, John said. This shortfall has been recovered in the months since, for which John expressed thanks.
He added, ‘Some continue to question whether having the one Home Mission fund is the best way to finance all we do. But the events of the last year and this have shown the value of having resources we can share quickly across our Baptist family.’
Lynn said there were lots of 'amazing, creative, bold and encouraging things' happening across Baptists Together, of which there is a snapshot in the Annual Report. She highlighted several:
Our Mission Forum continues to collaborate across Baptists Together, to respond to what God is doing nationally in terms of mission. This led to the sharing in the funding of a Director for Church Planting and Revitalisation with St Hild College in Sheffield. It’s also invested to help churches open Renew Wellbeing Centres, and 20 more in the pipeline.
Local churches have been engaging with the Re:Imagine resource, to help strengthen their mission focus.
We’re recognising and supporting Ali Boulton, Simon Goddard and Roy Searle as Pioneer Ambassadors. Their work has been focused on inspiring and equipping pioneers, and encourage us as a movement to seek God’s kingdom in new places and spaces.
The emergence of BUEN – the Baptist Union Environmental Network. This movement, alongside decisions taken at the March 2019 council about disinvestment, are all significant steps forward as we respond to God’s call to care for creation. (find out more and connect with BUEN here)
In 2019 we continued to celebrate and reflect on the centenary of Baptists ordaining women for ministry. This included the appointment of the Revd Jane Day to lead a project in this area, to help seek opportunities and help identify barriers that still exist for women leaders in our movement.
We appointed Tim Fergusson to another project role to help us establish a culture of Continuing Ministerial Development (CMD) because ‘the wellbeing and flourishing of all our leaders really important.’ Information about CMD has just been circulated to ministers. ‘I just want to encourage you to embrace this framework,’ said Lynn.
'Catching the wind of the Holy Spirit'
Lynn explained that towards the end of 2019 she sense that God was saying ‘we need to set our sails to catch the wind of the Spirit.’ It’s not about getting where ‘we want to go’; more a sense from the Lord that we need to hoist our sails to be ready and open and actively waiting for God’s leading and empowering – and then trusting Him that He will take us wherever He wants us to go… that sense of allowing God to take us, being open to God.
Lynn said this image has become more and more significant as 2020 has unfolded. ‘We’ve found ourselves in a season of indefinite uncertainty. We don’t know where it’s going. We’re having to trust that God’s spirit will lead and guide us.
However, even though we’re in a time of uncertainty, it doesn’t mean God is not at work – it does mean that 'we need to stop, look and listen for Him, and to continue in responsive discipleship.'
Listening to God, listening to each other - new Baptist films
In autumn 2020, in a joint project with the Faith and Society Specialist Team, Baptists Together Mission Forum and The Fuelcast, we are offering a series of films where people from all corners of the Baptist family share how they have heard God speaking during 2020.
Technology didn’t allow for the trailer for the films to be shown on the night, but it has now been integrated into the final cut of the full Assembly online replay, and can be found below. The films are released each Tuesday - find out more at baptist.org.uk/listening
One of the ways we want to encourage and catalyse big dreams for Baptists Together is by identifying what’s important now, explained Lynn. We can inspire one another and 'release the energy of our movement in a focused way'. Baptist Union Council discerned five priority areas
, and Lynn highlighted each in turn.
We want really inspire and encourage each other to really embody our value of embracing adventure in mission and discipleship.
‘I really believe that God is doing a new thing – and we want to be doing new things. And this has become even more important during the pandemic – working out what mission and discipleship is this season needs new and creative thinking.’
Key to this is developing leadership
, our second priority area. ‘We need to see our need to see our existing leaders deeply rooted in God and flourishing, and we need to be raising up new leaders too.
The third area is children, young people and families
. ‘We value their presence in our movement and churches, and we want children and young people to encounter the presence of Jesus. This is something we really want to work on and focus on together.
Alongside this we are grateful for our young adults
, another focus area. We want to encourage and release them to follow God’s call on their lives. We also want to be shaped by the faith of young adults, and allow them to lead us into new things.
The final priority area is the digital revolution
. ‘If we had any doubts about the importance of digital mission at the beginning of 2020, we certainly don’t now. Connecting, engaging, harnessing the potential of digital is key. We also want to reflect biblically and theologically on the impact of digital and virtual reality, and think about what it means to be human.
In practice, our pioneer ambassadors and young adults have established round tables, to give focus and energy. Lynn encouraged anyone with a passion to connect with the Round Tables.
She highlighted #missionaladventure
, a new online portal that’s enabling us to share mission stories, ideas and resources – it’s ‘a real peer collaboration space,’ said Lynn. In the area of digital mission a scoping group has just met to work out what’s already happening, and how we can develop that further.
One thing that God has been showing us in 2020 is his heart for justice, said Lynn. ‘We’re continuing to prayerfully reflect and act, to raise awareness of justice, and to raise awareness of experiences of injustice, hearing the pain of others. Justice is an issue we want to be focusing on in every aspect of our lives.
One project coming to fruition is the review of the settlement process for ministers. ‘We are praying that this and other developments in leadership areas will enable more people to respond to the call to ministry.
Concluding this section, Lynn said ‘We have so much to be thankful for. Our God is a faithful God. We have so much to celebrate. Our God is at work in us and through us. And we still have much to do. God is leading us into his new thing. We don’t know where we’re headed, what life will look like in a month’s time let alone a year’s time, but we’ll trust as we set our sails to catch the wind of God’s spirit that He will take us where He wants to go. And that’s where we want to be – with him.
Baptist Assembly Online 2020 concluded with prayers led by President Yinka Oyekan.
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