Saturday, 25 September 2010

European Baptist Federation - Day 4

Today was the last day of the Council, and a half-day only. Morning Worship included a reflection on 1 Samuel 3, God's call to Samuel. Looking back over the last few days, we've been led with huge enthusiasm and creativity, and I've valued in particular the emphasis upon worship songs from around the world which has been refreshing.

The main session included the culmination of the work of the Resolutions Committee which met four times in all. Being part of this committee has helped me to connect with EBF very quickly and I've valued the experience. At the same time I smiled at the prayer of a previous EBF President, 'Lord, let me now have your pity, I'm on the Resolutions Committee'. The two resolutions were carried, so the Council, while conducting a considerable amount of important business, also had something significant to say.

Other aspects of the morning were finance, priorities for the future, and EBF Aid. And we welcomed First Baptist Church, Bahrain.

EBF Council has been a very positive and encouraging first experience of wider Baptist life in Europe. Along the way I've been informed and inspired, deepened some friendships and made some new ones. Next year we meet in Nazareth.

Having been outside the building only to make a phone call home each day, it was wonderful to spend the afternoon and evening in Rome. In the limited time, we visited the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and two of the beautiful fountains. The sun shone a bit and walking around Rome was delightful. Other highpoints were ice cream at Giolitti's, which was exquisite, and a very reasonably priced meal near to Piazza Navona. And the company was really great fun to be with providing a perfect end to a good few days.

Friday, 24 September 2010

European Baptist Federation - Day 3

It's been raining in Rome, not that that's made any difference as there's been no opportunity to go outside. Still, tomorrow is Saturday and we finish at lunch-time, so some sun would be appreciated!

Continuing the emphasis upon Youth and Children, Morning Worship contained an address by Svejetlana Mraz on Proverbs 22.6, 'Train children in the right way'. Understandably, the music at the Council has an Italian feel, though today there was a decided Latin rhythm, with a kyrie eleison in the style of a bossa nova, and a benediction alla rumba. It was a tad disconcerting feeling the urge to shimmy while singing 'Lord, have mercy', but it did work, just!

The morning session began with a focus on Mission with inspiring stories from the Indigenous Mission Project (IMP) which has planted 110 churches since 2002. Its goal is to facilitate evangelism and the planting of new Baptist churches in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of these situations are far from comfortable and we heard of a pastor in Turkey who had been kidnapped, threatened with death, and police protected from extreme nationalists. It was good to hear in the same session about Baptist Muslim Encounters.

Hearing about challenges in other parts of Europe makes me think how very comfortable we are in many parts of the UK and how resource rich we are by comparison with many parts of Europe. During the break it was good to meet up again with Bader from the Association of Baptist Churches (ABC) in Israel and to hear news of the churches there.

The second part of the morning we came to the discussion of the resolution concerning the future of the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) followed by a decision. I don't want to pre-empt the reporting of this, but the discussion was very supportive and the decision nearly unanimous.

The session before lunch brought 'Encouraging Stories of what God is doing' from the Austrian Baptist Union, and the Baptist Union of Norway. Later on in the afternoon a session concerning an agreement between the EBF and the CPCE, the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, which might have been dry, turned out to be moving, particularly on account of the dark history between the Lutheran Church and the Anabaptists several hundred years ago.

After an evening meal I attended what was originally intended to be a small working group but became an open meeting to look at the issue of Christian marriage. Inevitably this included the broader issue of human sexuality and an open discussion was had in which convictions were shared and stories told. This felt to be the beginning of a conversation, the start of a journey, which I hope will be continued.

This was followed by a further Resolutions Committee to work on the statement again. A long day.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

European Baptist Federation - Day 2

The first meeting of today took place over breakfast with the Resolutions Committee, of which I discovered I'm a part! Our task is a work-in-progress, meeting together to help formulate some statements which express the mind of the Council and to which Council can agree in the form of final resolutions. The second meeting took place over the evening meal and already it's become an interesting journey.

The Morning Worship demonstrated to me again the power of one musical instrument, in the hands of a skilful performer, to elevate the worship. On this occasion it was a cello played quite superbly, and the worship included a creative marriage of instrumental music, using the cello, and spoken words. One of the emphases of the Council is Youth and Children, and we were encouraged to view the apostle Paul as a model mentor to young Timothy.

Reports occupied the first part of the morning session and showed something of Tony Peck's (The General Secretary of the EBF) remarkable grasp of a huge geographical area with considerable diversity. Preliminary discussion began on the future of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in the context of an encouraging report celebrating its success and affirming its value within Europe as an academic institution and a place of formation for ministry and training for mission. Further discussion will take place tomorrow, but this is a big issue and it was good to pause to pray for the Seminary and in particular the people involved.

There are a number of points in the agenda for 'Encouraging stories of what God is doing', and this morning we heard from the First Baptist Church of Iraq. This was introduced by a reading from Habakkuk 3. 17, 'Though the fig tree shall not blossom ...' The speaker noted that Habakkuk made no mention of an absence of water or electricity and a temperature in excess of 50C in in his list of things that weren't happening! We received an enormously encouraging story of life and growth in the midst of struggle. And though completely different, encouragement came with hearing from the Irish Baptist Network who are among us with the simple desire to get to know the wider Baptist family.

The afternoon began with a focus on 'The Church of Today and Tomorrow' concentrating on youth and children.  We were presented with a fascinating exploration of different youth milieus based upon Catholic research in Germany. This has far-reaching ramifications about the very narrow range of young people with whom we as churches engage and was instructive for the situation in the UK. After discussion groups, we continued with further reports, concluding with more 'Encouraging stories ...' this time from the Baptist Union of South Serbia, and then from Russia.

Tonight we were given an Italian Evening with a strong musical flavour. After an assortment of items the finale was a folk duo from Calabria, consisting of voice and twelve string guitar, and electric guitar. This was real class, but what was compelling was the spectacular playing of the electric guitarist, wooing his instrument with delicious effects.

Internet access is limited to the foyer, and populated day and night by people concentrating intensely over their lap-tops, muttering the mantra, 'Are you connected?' Writing this blog I'm one of them!

A good full day.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

European Baptist Federation Council - Day 1

'Day 1' carries the danger of promising more than can be delivered, because for most of the delegates the day has been spent travelling. My day began at 2.30 a.m. which got me here in good time - understatement - and there's been a trickle of arrivals throughout the day.

The Council began properly with a meal this evening and the opening service of worship. The Italian welcome has been very warm and there is a real buzz as people gather for this annual event from all parts of Europe and beyond. The EBF embraces a number of Baptist unions from countries which aren't in Europe. But they're here because in some way their existence is inextricably linked with the EBF.

Of the 55 member churches 45 are represented.  And today I've had conversations with people from Lebanon, Palestine, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Netherlands. And I've just sung, 'Bind us together, Lord' - a very, very long time since I last sang that - holding hands with a long-standing friend from Yorkshire on my right, and the Vice President of the Russian Baptist Union on my left.

The President of the EBF, Valeriu Ghiletchi, preached at the opening service on 2 Cor. 9, 'My grace is sufficient for you.' A fascinating character, he is a former Bishop of the Moldova Baptist Union, and presently an MP in the Moldovan government.

So, the next few days look promising.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Arrivederci - off to Rome for the EBF

I'm off to Rome for my first European Baptist Federation (EBF) Council, very early tomorrow morning. OK, so there are worse places to go than The Eternal City, although the reality is that the only opportunity for sight-seeing will be when it's over - an opportunity I'm going to seize!

I'm looking forward to meeting Baptist Christians from different parts of Europe from diverse situations. And it'll be good to connect with Arab friends from the Association of Baptist Christians (ABC) in Israel who are part of the EBF. One of the big things on the agenda is the future of the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) in Prague. I hope to have Wi-Fi, and if there's enough space in the schedule I may blog while I'm there.

Just to help get in the groove I've downloaded, Respighi's Roman Trilogy, which consists of three suites, The Pines of Rome, the Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals. This music is described as 'picture postcard music' and is brilliantly orchestrated, and characterfully colourful. The recording I have is with Antonio Pappano and Rome's numero uno orchestra, the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionali di Santa Cecilia.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Song of Songs, St Paul's, Saatchi and Settlement Team

The last week has gone up a gear, or several, after a fairly relaxed August. During that time the highlight was a day spent in London which began with a lunchtime Prom at the Cadogan Hall with Stile Antico singing Renaissance settings of the Song of Songs. I'd heard a snippet of their CD and on the strength of it bought the CD only to discover their debut the following Monday as part of the Proms season. It was superb, and as one reviewer expressed it, 'the sensuous vocabulary vibrated with that mellifluous vocal bliss'.

The day also included Evening Prayer at St Paul's Cathedral, as well as very quick visits to the Saatchi Gallery and the Tate. I could live without the former and on this occasion the Tate had loaned its Rothkos to another museum so was a tad disappointing. Two other features were coffee on the veranda of the eighth floor of the OXO Tower overlooking the Thames, and a brisk walk following Evening Prayer to see the Gherkin, which was sensational close up and in the late afternoon sun. All in all, a pretty brilliant day.

This last week, solidly work, included meeting with the Principals of the Baptist Colleges, and the tutors. This is an annual event which happens concurrently with our September National Settlement Team and Team Leaders' Meeting. As part of this it's very good to meet up with friends, and especially blogging friends. I particularly enjoyed conversations with Nah Then and Living Wittily. I'm struck again by that unexpected sense of community that blogging has brought to my life.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

St Michael le Belfrey - The Vinyl Years

On Saturday I received a CD of a compilation of the music that came out of St Michael le Belfrey back in the eighties. This church, literally in the shadow of York Minster, experienced considerable growth under David Watson's ministry, and continues to be a significant church in the city.

St Michael's was one of those Anglican churches that was at the vanguard of Charismatic Renewal, though always in a way that was respectful of its tradition. And that's expressed in the music, which was influenced by folk music - The Fisherfolk were regular visitors and a great encouragement in the use of all of the arts - but remained within the English Church music stream.

Listening today, the songs retain their beauty, simplicity, creativity, biblical and theological content, and that elusive 'something else' which for me made them highly significant. In a very real way it provided something of a musical bridge when I was finding faith again - I certainly didn't expect to hear a worship song, 'Jesus, my Saviour' in 5/4 time! Maybe it was the lovely oboe playing of Andrew Maries, the musical director and driving force, which provided a link with my world at that time. Or maybe it was the creativity and musical excellence of Chris Norton, now a good friend, and with whom we enjoyed a splendid day in London on Saturday, talking among many things about 'The Vinyl Years'.

I guess that I still listen out for hymns/songs that have 'beauty, simplicity, creativity, biblical and theological content, and that elusive "something else"'. I don't expect every hymn/song to have all of these qualities, but when there is a good mix the result can sometimes be something special. The grumpy old man in me, especially in a nostalgic mood, wants to say, 'But it doesn't happen that often!' Am I asking too much?