I’ve spent the last 48 hours at the Fresh Streams conference. Although I’ve been to the odd day over the last few years it is the first time I’ve been to the whole thing for 5 years. It hasn’t changed much over that time (though the leadership has become more plural and has a better gender balance): the format is a mixture of worship / speakers with a few optional seminars on the middle day.
The two main speaking pairings will be known to many as experienced, competent speakers with a track record of touching people’s lives through their ministry. Kenny / Morag Borthwick from their work with CLAN in Scotland and the New Wine Network in England; Chrissie and Gerard Kelly from their leadership of the Bless Network and, in years past, involvement with Spring Harvest. Kenny used his sessions to think about what it means to be immersed in the character of God as Father, Son and Spirit (God’s presence, being in Christ and the Holy Spirit filling our emptiness). Chrissie / Gerard talked about going further into God and into mission with some interesting imagery suggesting God needs sailors not taxi drivers because taxi drivers take you where they know whereas sailors have courage to go where no one has been.
For me, the one take away, is the simple reminder that God loves me (us) unconditionally irrespective of my accomplishments (or lack of them), regardless of my flaws and fallenness. Which has given the conference a feel similar to a two day counselling session (in a good way).
But while the Fresh Streams conference and the way it brings people and churches together makes for a good event it also raises the question, 'what does non-Unionised Baptist life look like?'
The basic meeting format here is similar to many Sunday worship gatherings; sung worship (with prayer / Scripture reading), Speaker, response time. Fresh Streams sees worship as entering into a taste of heaven with an expectation of experiencing the presence of God (thus prayer themes around relating to God rather than intercession) with speakers who set out to answer the question ‘what does God want to say to us?’(which gives talks a shape that would make most homiletics teachers despair). The approach and feel is very different to that of BUGB events! So how important is crafting worship to include traditional elements (even if done in contemporary ways) or constructing sermons to exegete the text to the health of baptist life? And if one has to choose between the two which way does one jump?
Fresh Streams is only one thread of Baptist life but I detect here a continuing sense that ‘baptist’ ways of doing church (what they teach you in theological college) are seen as an impediment to going on with God. This was brought home to me in an optional seminar thinking about BUGB as a mission movement where a significant number felt that the Union’s practices of ministerial recognition and support were unhelpful or damaging.
While many will feel this is neither new nor significant my concern grows out of a sense that I’m called to inhabit both worlds; to play a role in the life of the Union but also to lead charismatic Baptist churches. But I’m no gymnast and can’t do the splits!