Lots of people seem to be thinking about Church Meetings and things like membership or leadership at the moment. Now and then friends from other churches, Baptist or otherwise, ask me my views on how things are being done in their churches (as if I somehow am qualified to comment!). The more I read, the more I think that here in Dibley we do Church meetings rather well! I've never had a really awful meeting in three years; no one has stormed out, no one has shouted or cried and although apathy can be the order of the day, our meetings usually include quite a lot of laughter.
When I arrived and prepared my first meeting in January 2004 I made a lot of assumptions - as did the good people of Dibley. I arrived in good time, set out my papers and waited. The pianist arrived and asked me which hymn we were singing - I had not sung a hymn in a church meeting for over ten years and was taken aback to find that people here assumed that everyone did. The next meeting (3 months later!) I was prepared and carried a large pile of BPW's (red 1991 hymnbook) into the hall only to be told 'oh, we use the green book for church meetings' (c 1960). Since then we have only sung once and no one seems to remember that we ever did. (Bit of a blow when at D+2 we did on Monday...). More interesting was what people said to me about the hymn - it meant you could arrive late and sneak in unnoticed, it meant that the meeting hadn't really started yet because it was the (sic) religious bit.
Since I arrived we have increased the frequency of church meetings to bi-monthly. We often spend time in small group prayer at the start of the meeting, usually but not always with deacons expected to facilitate a group if it sits in uncomfortable silence. Most meetings include some small group work on a topic of some import. But possibly my greatest success is getting the finance and property reports tabled rather than read to us line by painful line! Instead of 15 minutes of people staring into space, they stare at the pages for a minute or so and have the chance to ask questions before we move on.
For some of our folk, the demise of rubber stamping 'deacons decisions' - and with it the freedom to stamp their feet over what is suggested has been something of a blow: they can't moan when they've had an input.
Meeting with D+1 was a good way of seeing how far we have moved in our church meetings; reading other people's stuff which seems to advocate a far less participatory form of meeting troubles me; knowing that 'we always do x, y or z' is becoming a thing of the past inspires me!
Church Meetings are not my favourite pastime in the whole wide world, I still get hacked off with apathy and indifference and the inevitable huddles in corners, but I still belive in them and think they are a great ideal. Here in Dibley we don't do too badly.