I look forward to the Assembly because among a number of things it's great to meet up with friends, some of whom I see more regularly but others on just this annual occasion. And in this respect Assembly did not disappoint.
This year's Assembly had a special attraction as my former colleague and friend, Pat Took, became the President. Pat is a star! As I listened to her speak on a number of occasions I felt very blessed to have sat next to her for six years at our monthly National Settlement Team. She speaks wise words and in such a way that they stick. And her words at the Assembly were no exception. On the theme 'Your kingdom come' she spoke compellingly about the inclusive community, that this was 'the joy that was set before him' and that was worth dying for. In Jesus all exclusions are ended! Her challenge was that if all are to find their place at the Great Banquet each has something to lose of themselves. I hope we have ears to hear the almost passing comment that 'we need to accept a gracious amnesia'.
Wale Hudson Roberts picked up the baton in his morning Bible study with an authoritative and inspiring exploration of The Lord's Prayer and the key phrase 'Thy kingdom come'. Again, this prayer is a model of inclusion and Wale challenged the delegates with the statement 'global injustice is in the very air we breathe.' Kumar Rajagopalan concluded the session with a stonker of a prayer!
I missed Jeff Lucas' Saturday evening session and his seminars but heard very good things. However, I did take in John Colwell's Baptist Ministers' Fellowship address on 'A Priestly Ministry?' This was an exploration of the nature of the ministry to which we have been called and those who know John won't be surprised to hear that he has a high view of ordination!
Lynn Green spoke from Mk 10 on Jesus welcoming the children and what she said about the passage was true of her preaching, 'deceptively simple but deeply challenging'.
Julie Pennington Russell spoke at the evening session where those newly accredited ministers coming to the end of this season of their ministry were presented and recognised. She spoke on The Lunatic Farmer, encouraging people to 'trust the messy field of your life to God' and to 'trust the messy field of your church to God'.
Other notable features were the worship, which was led mostly by Andy Scarcliffe. He brought to the usual contemporary mix some innovative use of more established hymns. The high point, which I can't believe I'm saying, was one of my least favourite hymns, Lord of the Dance. He managed to transpose it into an entirely different feel through style and tempo - and it really worked. I could have even danced!
On the Sunday morning, the worship was in a Jazz style and there were moments which were unforgetable. All creatures of our God and king was transformed into something which for me was very beautiful - I can still hear the harmonies! The Communion, with the involvement of two hugely talented children questioning and commenting on what was happening, created a strange intimacy. The prayers of intercession were imaginatively crafted and presented.
Later on that morning, John Woodhouse was commissioned as Chaplain General of the British Army - a significant and moving occasion.
The Monday morning Public Resolutions focused on Christian Aid's campaign regarding the negative impacts for poor countries of tax evasion and avoidance by some multi-national companies. The presentation was informative and challenging and many people contributed to the debate, which concluded with the passing of the resolution.
There was considerable effort to ensure that the Assembly wasn't divided down the middle between Baptist Union and BMS World Mission and the obvious close working and sharing together is an exciting development.
So, all in all, a really good Assembly. But also it was really sad.
The husband of a minister from the Central Baptist Association, whom I was due to present at the recognition on Sunday evening, collapsed shortly after arriving late Saturday afternoon and died early that evening. Our prayers continue to be with Heather and her family at the devastating loss of Alistair and the churches at Wendover Free and Little Kingshill.
And then, shortly after leaving, I heard that another minister in the Central Baptist Association, Andrew Busby, who has fought a long battle with several bouts of cancer, died on Sunday evening, poignantly, probably at the same time as the In Memorium at the Assembly. Andrew was a one-off, a lovely man, someone I had come to have a special affection for and I will miss him. We pray for his family and the church at Amersham Free.
Rest in peace, Alistair and Andrew.