As one of those rather sad individuals who loves Baptist Assembly (songology not withstanding... we did sing that song I so do not like, even if it was twice 'unpacked' before we did so - ha! Finally people are beginning to grasp that a bouncy tune does not automatically a good hymn/song make) I feel that I am returning from Blackpool well blessed.
Of course there were niggles and bits I didn't much like, but that's part of the wonder of Bappyness, so I am going to choose to note mostly what was wonderful.
I loved the two morning prayer sessions I attended, the first led by Clare McBeath & Tim Presswood, the second by BMS. At 8:15 to be still, to pray for God's world, to slow down (or slowly crank up, whichever it was) was fantastic. Very different styles of prayer but each special. Indeed, I loved the whole 'Open Space' experience and the artwork by someone I knew from one of my former placements which formed a version of a crucifix/cross: very striking and thought provoking.
I enjoyed Prism Bible study - because it is closer to Bible study than the big stage event where you are addressed for almost 60 minutes. There is nothing wrong with the latter, I just preferred the former. Thanks Ruth, Simon & gang for making it so good - even in that dreadful space you were assigned.
Recognition of ministers & missionaries and In Memoriam are always special moments. The usual request for restraint from cheers & applause and the usual wilful refusal to obey will no doubt raise the usual comments. I did think this year's batch of ministers looked a bit scruffy and it seemed the dress code we were given last year had not been followed this time around. As someone who is not a fan of dressing up, but who also thinks that there are times to do as you are told, I was a smidgeon disappointed to see people on stage in jeans and teeshirts but it remains a very special moment. 10/10 to Geoff Colmer for best turned out RM!! (See photo below, Geoff on rhs, photo nicked from Assembly website) I hope, and pray, that this year's batch will have found it a special moment in the way we did last year (notwithstanding being reduced to a number to allocate their seats)
The closing All Age worship was great fun. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed the party atmosphere and slightly irreverent ending to the power points - perhaps a few scowled at the frivolity of the latter, but it sent us out smiling.
The thing that made me think the most was called 'The Full Monty'- a session on spirituality preference/types and (allegedly) mission. Using nine types including naturalists, sensates, ascetics, intellectuals, enthusiasts, contemplatives, activists, care givers - and one I've forgotten! - should enable a person to understand what helps them to engage with God, and can also be used to understand how a congregation encounters/relates to God. This should in theory be able to shape or inform mission. What intrigues me then, is that Assembly is predicated very much on two of these: the worship is designed to suit Enthusiasts - bouncy, loud and fast moving - whilst most others sessions suit Intellectuals - lots of information to listen to and try to assimilate and understands. So what happens to the contemplative or sensate (presumably Open Space is in some way a response to their needs)? What happens to the caregiver or ascetic? Is it the case (alas I think it probably is) that Assembly meets the needs of only some people and that there are those of profound faith and spirituality who would find the whole event a total turn off. I am fortunate, I think to have a spread of preferences, so can enjoy the bouncy worship and feed on the long talks, but I also need the interaction, multi-sensory and silence that the 'fringe' that is Prism and Open Space provide. I guess I hope that we can one day find a way to bring the rainbow diversity of authentic Baptist spirituality into the main arena not to 'offend everyone equally', but so that we may learn with and from those who encounter God differently.
I reckon I met around 50-60 people I know, and was introduced to a few people who are kind enough to read this twaddle. I hope that they, too, had a good Assembly, were in some measure able to encounter God (rather 'do business with God' a phrase I really dislike because it reduces faith and spirituality to a transaction). Assembly is not perfect because none of us who takes part is perfect... but it does help remind me why I love being a part of these whacky people called Baptists.
Apologies to Scottish Baptist readers for whom this is probably unbearably dull... but we did have Fischy Music all the way frae bonnie Scotland to lead our closing worship.
More photos can be found here