So the three things I suggested everyone would be talking about at the Baptist Assembly were found to be true.
The new General Secretary of the Baptist Union is Lynn Green (Baptist Times report here). This has been rightly described as 'historic'. The first woman to be in this position (the best comment following the news was from Glen Marshall who tweeted 'thought we'd got past the stage when the best a woman could hope for was to be a secretary'). That the vote of Assembly was nearly unanimous (only a few abstentions) surely reflects that the majority position of the Baptist Union is now fully affirming of women in ministry. Now we know that there are some within the Union who hold a different view, so was surprised that there were no 'no's' expressed. While this is a historic step forward - although for me not an unsurprising one - the full affirmation of women in ministry in all areas of local, associational and Union life has a long way to go. Equally the expectation on Lynn will now be immense, being the first woman and taking position in a crucial moment (perhaps some Obama comparisons could be made?). None of that should take away from the sense that having listened to God, we feel confident that in Lynn, we have someone with the ability to do the role. The role of course is not a straightforward one - while the General Secretary shares similarities with the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is also very different - although it is has at this point, an opportunity to develop in a new way.
The expectation around the intergenerational (all-age) communion on Sunday morning was perhaps too high. There was a sense from many that it did not do as much as it perhaps promised. It is important to note here that some of the problems were out of the hands of those planning the worship. It was unfortunate that the preacher (a decision taken by Assembly Planning Team) spoke for 18 minutes and made no attempt to engage with children or young people. While there were stations that enabled people to confess, intercede and do something arty - all good, this was the only option for the children. When it came to communion itself, it became again very wordy - and while the question and answer of why we share bread and wine was good - the invitation and thanksgiving prayer were too long and failed to connect with all who were present. Sometimes it feels that people take the opportunity to be on 'stage' with an agenda, that jars with what others in planning and leading are attempting to do. Intergenerational worship needs to be simple, imaginative and active. Greenbelt tends to get this balance well. I and many others were disappointed. While there were some good bits, it is back to the drawing board and the need for those planning a service like that to have more freedom on the whole and not just bits.
The third area of conversation was of course around Monday's discussion around same-sex relationships. I think most people, including myself, felt this was handled very well. There was some good scripted conversation opening up the issues and then space for a range of voices to be heard view feedback from small group discussion. The session didn't try to over-reach itself by doing too much, it was in many ways an initial conversation starter, and permission to have wider conversation, now. The Union last debated issues of sexuality in a plenary session in 2002. What emerged again perhaps reflect that many Baptists Christians are less dogmatic and fixed in their views regarding same-sex relationships, than say ten years ago. Most find themselves wanting to be 'accepting', but struggling with how we read Scripture and the teachings of the Christian tradition. Stephen Keyworth's comment about what we believe about marriage was a very important one. I would suggest that both church and society perhaps have a high-view of marriage, but a thin understanding (at least theologically) of what marriage is and means. As Baptists we need more Christian theological ethicists (good to see Michael Peat's Whitley Lecture as an example) to help us.
I have written about twitter and worship before and its use during Assembly confirmed my issues with it. At times the twitter feed became a running critical commentary on the plenary sessions. Reminds me of Dom Joly's guy with a big mobile phone in an art gallery or lecture standing up and shouting that it's 'crap'. None of it very edifying. (I course think there needs to be critical response, but there is a time and a place, a tweet during worship seems to be neither). The other kind of tweet is the kind that says this is the most wonderful, amazing, brilliant moment ever. Neither seems to be an aid to enabling people to worship God. I fail to understand why it is encouraged during sessions.
On this blog and others, the Baptist Union comes in for a lot of comment, BMS rarely gets a mention, so it was good to talk with Neil Brighton about some of our experiences with BMS, both the positives and negatives. The relationship between churches and BMS is shifting, as much as it is between churches, associations and Union, and it will be interesting to see how this develops. BMS continue though to get all the good headlines and they do impress in their creativity (See Catalyst Live) and video presentations.
A final note is about the President and desire to see the out-going President being given more opportunity to feed back into Union life on what they have seen, heard, been encouraged by, concerned about. The tendency is to give a quick 5-min slot, to say how wonderful everything is, and I would be interested to hear a broader report on the state of our Union from someone who has been able to a take a snapshot of both associational and local church life. This would give the Presidency more importance as a means of speaking to and listening to our Union life. So Chris Duffett if you read this, what have seen, heard, been encouraged by and concerned about - the latter being the one, often not given space for.