We have not long arrived back in the UK after a month’s holiday in France. This year we went to Provence and enjoyed wall-to-wall sunshine whilst the UK seemed to ‘enjoy’ wall-to-wall rain. Even though I am ‘retired’, and Julia is not working, the break did us both a lot of good and we have come home with a sense of excitement and anticipation regarding the future.
While we have been away the Baptist Union Council have been discussing the ‘Future’ of the Baptist Union and various ‘decisions’ have been made, we gather. We don’t purport to know much about exactly what these ‘decisions’ entail – I am ‘retired’ and retired Baptist Ministers (for all the best possible reasons you understand) are not really consulted about the future of our denomination, and Julia is not currently ‘in pastorate’ (having officially been on a year’s absence from the Baptist Ministry although now back in the ‘settlement process’) and therefore doesn’t get informed either. No doubt it will all become clearer in due course as the news filters down from above. Without doubt the structures need an overhaul. Whether or not the discussion that has taken place, and the ‘decisions’ that have been made by the Baptist Union Council will resolve these issues remains to be seen.
I am led to believe that one of the major problems we face as a denomination is a lack of trust or confidence, by the majority of Baptist Ministers and church members, in those who are perceived to be our leaders – members of the Baptist Union Council, Regional Ministers of one kind or another, the Principals and Tutors at our Baptist Theological Colleges, etc. There would appear to be a certain ‘remoteness’ between the aforesaid people and the hoi polloi but, in fairness, the ‘head in the sand’ independency of many Ministers and local churches may have contributed to this. I have to confess however that, as someone who has been very loyal to the Baptist Union and its structures over many, many years – too loyal some would say considering the way we have been treated at times, although in fairness I have not always behaved too well myself – I too feel this sense of remoteness. Many of our problems as a denomination have stemmed, in my humble opinion, from some of the changes implemented 20 or more years ago when Regional Associations were made larger, rather than made smaller and increased in number as I would have wanted. At the same time the Baptist Union Council appears to have assumed an authoritarian decision-making role (whilst the opportunity for discussion, debate, and decision-making at the annual Baptist Union Assembly was both severely curtailed and pushed on to the back burner). Even in the current round of discussions over the future of the Baptist Union it is noticeable that the decisions are being made by the Baptist Union Council and that the rank and file of the denomination has not really been consulted. Perhaps this is necessary in order to implement necessary change, although I hope that opportunity will be given for the ‘rank and file’ to affirm these changes at some point.
This week, however, our own future will be coming up for discussion. Having made a good recovery from her chronic fatigue problems Julia is looking to return to the Baptist Ministry and is back in the ‘settlement process’. The idea is that she will become the Pastor of a local church somewhere, and I will be alongside her to support her as a ‘non-stipendiary’ Minister if the church concerned would want that, perhaps helping out in some way in the local Baptist Association as well. I also want to continue with some writing, studying, and Online Tutoring for Spurgeon’s College as well as continuing to contribute my regular ‘Of Interest to You’ column for the Baptist Ministers’ Journal. This week the Baptist Union National Settlement Team will be meeting once again to try and ‘marry up’ vacant churches looking for Ministers with Ministers looking to move churches (or in Julia’s case return to the Pastorate). We have a very good Regional Minister, the Rev Jez Brown, looking after us, and he has worked very hard on our behalf. Indeed, I believe all the Regional Ministers (certainly those that I know personally) are good people, and try really hard to fulfil the role of pastor pastorum to the Ministers, as well as cope with an increasing amount admin stuff at the same time. In the 10 months that Julia has been back in the settlement process her name (and sometimes mine as well) has been sent to about 20 churches. One or two have shown an interest, most have rejected her without meeting her, and several have not even bothered to contact her at all. On paper, Baptist Churches do not have a problem with appointing women Ministers – we have had women Ministers in the Baptist Union since the mid-1920s. The reality would appear to be somewhat different, however. Some Baptist Churches remain very opposed to having a woman Minister, sadly, but the majority claim to be open to the possibility. It is not that the Diaconates or ‘Search Committees’ of churches looking to fill their pastoral vacancy deliberately reject women candidates like Julia – they just consider the male candidates first? This is such a shame because those who know Julia know what an excellent preacher, worship leader, compassionate and caring Pastor she is – and I am sure that the same could be said of many other women Ministers as well.
This week Julia’s name and profile will probably again be sent to two or three vacant churches, and we await to see what the outcome will be – her profile ignored, rejection emails, or perhaps a phone call to see if she is still available and interested? We do not know what the future holds for us, but we do know who holds the future. We return from France confident that the Lord has a place for us, and it will prove to be exactly the right place. We take to heart a scripture that has long meant a lot to us – ‘I have plans for you, says the Lord. Plans for good and not for evil, plans to give hope and a future’ [Jeremiah 29:11).