Baptist Assembly is over once more, and the people have returned home (or will be well on their way home) by now. It is no secret that I enjoy going to Baptist Assemblies even though aspects of them irritate me. The just-ended Scottish one fulfilled the blend of enjoyment and annoyance that, for me anyway, seems helpful. And it made me think. And it prompted a few new ideas. And maybe I did hear stuff God was saying. It would be all too easy to parody the annoying bits or overstate the bits that I enjoyed; too easy to criticise the bits that were poor (and some bits were very poor) or wax-lyrical about the slick parts (and some parts were extremely slick). One of the aspects of Baptist Assemblies (both sides of Hadrian's wall) in recent years has been the endeavour to collect people's sense of "what God is saying" by means of messages written on cards and handed in. It sounds good, and holy and well, somehow like we are indeed hearing God. But. Hmm. Not sure. Maybe it's the way I'm wired, but at the end of a high-energy motivational preach/speech, when the
audience congregation is pumped up, I feel we are more likely to write down what the speaker has just told us than actually what God is saying. But it could just be me – genetically indisposed to altar calls or invitations to stand up if the Lord is saying x, y, or z to you – but it is more likely that what bubbles up through my subconscious is of divine origin. Twice in my life I have 'heard' God speak to me directly and clearly, but usually it is more the 'sound of sheer silence' through which God speaks.
The key to what God said to me – or so I am arrogant enough to believe – was in a line from Karl Martin when he was speaking about the importance of knowing what we are about, having a strategy and boldly expressing it. I have no idea where he stands on the issue, but he referred not just once, but certainly twice, and possibly three times, directly to the Stonewall poster campaign: "Some People are Gay: Get Over It". Now, this may have been a homiletic device. But it was, for me actually a summary of what had been said by other speakers throughout the event, and to which, in part, he alluded... "Some People are [insert category]: Get Over It". And maybe, just maybe, it was God's direct message to those gathered there...
Most of the speakers were male, and well known... Karl Martin, Glen Marshall, Chris Duffett (so three, white, English males); one was not, Mo Gibbs, a Scottish pre-accredited minister who works bi-vocationally halt time as BUS Youth Co-ordinator and half time as Associate Minister in a small Baptist church. Lots of people will wax lyrical about the men and what they said; most will probably overlook Mo. Before Assembly she confided in me that she felt that what she had prepared didn't say anything new (You were right Mo! I've preached pretty much that that same sermon a few times!!) but trusted that it was the right thing to be saying (it was, Mo, it so was). The thing is, the message from God was not (just) what she said, it was Mo... young, female, home-grown... I really hope some of the people heard what she said about the Samaritan woman at the well and were challenged to reflect on how they look at the 'other' (in her words) or at 'some people' (in Stonewall's); I hope they also grasped what she incarnated, modelled, is...
In the final session Karl Martin invited people to stand if they believed God was calling them to either 'apostolic' or 'prophetic' ministry. I did not stand, but perhaps I should have. I did not stand because I was not sure what he meant by these words (hence my use of quotation marks), and am not convinced all who did stand would have understood either. I did not stand because I did not feel prompted too (disinclination aside!). But perhaps I should have done because as I mulled over what I heard and my experiences over the last three years, I was reminded that, just as Mo was to Assembly, so I am to the BUS... a woman minister in sole pastoral charge of a Baptist church in Scotland. Who I am is the message. A prophetic message. A call that is costly. A call that is sometimes very isolating and lonely. A call that carries risk of rejection. A call that carries humungous responsibility. But then, if we look at the OT prophets, that was often their experience too. And if we look at Jesus... Apostolic ministry; prophetic ministry – these are a call to deny self, take up a cross and follow, even to death itself.
As part of my mulling (and this may seem like a side-track) I pondered the fact (as I see it) that I will never be an Assembly speaker, and that that's a good thing because part of me craves the kind of adulation that the Karl Martin's and so on of this world seem to attract. I think this is perhaps the last vestiges of my eight year-old fear of being forgotten when I die, and the way to overcome that is to be famous... Hmm. I reflected that I do not have the humility or spiritual depth to be employed in that capacity, and that the driver was, largely vanity. But actually, the reason it won't happen is not that at all. It is because that's not my calling. I will not be forgotten when I eventually die – I am already part of Baptist history (so God answered my unformed childhood prayer!) and I have a task that requires the gifts that God has given me – womanhood, flawedness, stroppiness, and a prophetic presence. No one will look back on me and say, 'she was a great woman of prayer' because I struggle with prayer. No one will look back and say, 'she was a fantastic Bible scholar' because I'm not. But, please God, one day someone will say 'she did what God called her to do, was what God called her to be, showed us something of the Christ in whom she put her trust'.
During the course of Assembly things were said both from the platform or in one-to-one conversations that prompted (or should have) the response of what God said both via Mo and via Stonewall... (The 'quotes' are not verbatim but are expressed as such to distinguish them from my responses)
"He doesn't get our culture, we're not all republicans, we don't think Aberdeen is local, he shouldn't say that, even tongue ion cheek, about Catholics in a BUS context..."
Some people are English – Get over it
Some people don't get 'us' – Get over it
Some people are republicans – Get over it
Some people are royalists – Get over it
"It's all very well him saying that man covered in tattoos is going to be a minister, but what kind of church would take him, I mean what about Leviticus..."
Some people are tattoo artists - Get over it
Some people are into body art or piercings – Get over it
"A minister but first and foremost be a woman of God" (stony silence) "... or a man of God"
Some people are female – Get over it
Some ministers are women – Get over it
"The woman at the well of mixed race, neither Jew nor Gentile"
Some people are not like us – Get over it
Some people have confused identities – Get over it
"She had been married five times – but we know nothing about why her marriages failed, perhaps she was a victim of abuse, rejection" [I'd add, we don't even know she was divorced she could have been widowed five times]
Some people have complex pasts – Get over it
Some people have a complex present – Get over it
"Some people are gay – get over it"
Some people are gay – get over it
Sin is still sin: abuse, injustice, cruelty, murder, licentiousness, avarice, envy, idolatry, vanity etc. etc. are still sin. But people are people, made in the image and likeness of God – so no matter 'they' differ from 'us' we should get over it.
Dare I say, as would the prophets of old,
"Thus say the LORD: some people are not like you... get over it..."
Dare I, you, we, hear that as from God?
This is an uber-long post. It is a slightly risky post. I'm too much of a coward not to add my rider: as an accredited minister of the BUS and BUGB I accept their discipline on all matters relating to pastoral practice.
However, the role of the prophet is sometimes to put her head above the metaphorical parapet – and to risk it being blown off in consequence. This caveat is my tin helmet!