On Friday I boarded a train from Hyndland (centre of the universe) en route to Harrogate for the annual BUGB-BMS Assembly. I took with me two novels (both of which I had read by the time I got home again), some tattie scones for a friend (in exchange for 'interesting cheese') and a sense of anticipation.
I was not disappointed. Indeed, au contraire, I had a great time and returned home encouraged and inspired to carry on being and doing what God has called and equipped me to be and to do.
One day Assemblies have to be tightly focussed, and gone is the razzamatazz to be replaced by crisp sessions with precise content. The reintroduction of seminars was a real gift and I thoroughly enjoyed the two I chose to attend (on the upcoming election by Phil Jump and JPIT, and on Baptist identity and mission by David Kerrigan). Yes, I thought, this is good stuff, honest stuff, handling that faith-deeds interplay humbly, thoughtfully and with integrity. Baptist Inclusivity has a way to go, but these sessions explored and exemplified what it might look like.
The In Memoriam and intercessions for the world were utterly beautiful, and skilflly facilitated by Geoff Colmar and the musical worship team. Such a shame this was a 'minor' session with so few people present. To remember with gratitude Rev Keith Hobbs, who helped me explore my initial call to ordination, and Rev Steve Mantle, who was a supportive Regional Minister as I explored my call to Scotland, was bitter-sweet, poignant and precious. Please, please, please put this back in the same slot as the 'handshakes', this is where it most properly belongs.
For me, the highlight was the 'optional extra' Sunday morning service wioth Communion. The preacher, David Kerrigan, spoke eloquently, pastorally, challengingly and encouragingly about the cross a place of forgiveness, a place of healing and a place of inclusion. Uncharacteristically, I was moved to go forward for prayer after the Communion, where God's angel, manifest in a lovely middle-aged black woman, prayed exactly the words I needed to refresh and encourage my soul. Thank you also to David K, who spoke words to me that I will treasure, and which were so hugely affirming.
I loved singing in Hindi, Xhosa, Hebrew, Spanish and more. I loved singing hymns I haven't sung since school-days and hymns that were new. I loved the variety of prayer (especially the body-centred prayers on Sunday). I loved the sense of welcome, generosity and down-to-earth rootedness I experienced.
Was it perfect? Of course not.
Did I have a great time? You betcha!
Some people complain that it isn't worth travelling such a distance for a one day Assembly. That is, of course, their privilege and right. I feel that such a decision risks missing out on things that are life-giving and important. Next year back to Peterborough (and already an invitiation to stay with friends)... Looking forward to it!