Saturday, 24 September 2011

EBF Council - Day Four

The final day combined business and pleasure with an afternoon tour taking in the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum, concluding with another great meal including St Peter fish and chips!

The morning included a report from Paul Montacute from the Baptist World Alliance, who reminded me that globally Baptists number some 110 million! This was Paul's last Council as he soon retires and I was reminded of my first contact with him back in 1988 when we were both involved in the Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference in Glasgow. I was conducting the orchestra alongside Graham Kendrick's band.

The two resolutions agreed by the Council were on topical issues. The first concerned the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine and included a call for unity among the EBF and an invitation to the world family of Baptists to pray and work for freedom and justice in the Middle East and Arab world. The second resolution expressed sorrow and solidarity with the people of Norway and the Baptist Union of Norway following the recent attacks in Oslo and on the Island of Utoya.  The resolve is that as member Unions of the EBF we stand up for the rights of those marginalised in their countries.

We said farewell to Valeriu Ghiletchi, the outgoing President, and inducted and greeted Hans Guderian as the new President.  Hans spoke movingly of his three visits to Israel, the first as a self-conscious German visiting Israel. He set out three challenges that face the EBF: secularisation - which leads to a tiredness and a lack of expectation; nationalism - which provokes anxieties concerning the stranger; and injustice, which is the cry not only of the people in North Africa but also the people in Madrid and Tel Aviv.

We were formally invited to the Council next year which meets in Elstal, Germany, not far from Berlin.

On Sunday morning I preach at the Nazareth Baptist Church, the oldest Baptist Church in Israel, and then head for home. It's been a good Council, made special by the location. This sort of event is a reminder to me that I'm part of something bigger. I'm constantly struck by the diversity among us, and at the same time an obvious and expressed unity. Once more I'm challenged by the very limited resources that some of the Unions have in comparison to ours. Again I've enjoyed making new friends and getting to know existing friends better.

EBF Council - Day Three

After Friday morning worship, at which Munir Kakish, the Pastor of Ramallah Baptist Church, spoke with great energy, the majority of the morning was given over to a presentation by Musulaha, an organisation working for biblical reconciliation in the Holy Land. The two speakers were Evan Thomas from the Messianic Jewish community and Salim Munayer from the Evangelical Palestinian community.

On this day of all days, with the Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas's request for recognised statehood at the United Nations General Assembly, it was timely to hear from two individuals who might well have represented opposing positions speaking as one.

Evan recognised in his opening that the Israel/Palestine situation was an insoluble, intractable conflict-out-of-control. Movingly he related three stories of how he came to be involved in the reconciliation process. The first was the experience of being a soldier at a security point in Gaza. On one occasion he found himself doing what was expressly forbidden: looking into the face of the person whose body was being searched, only to be met with the gaze of a Palestinian Christian brother.

Their presentation contained no easy answers but many valuable insights. They commented on the power of collective memory, noting that the day each year when Israelis celebrate their independence and the formation of a state, the Arab Palestinian community commemorate the day of Great Tragedy. They reflected on the dehumanisation inherent in body searches, and the pull towards the demonisation of the other, adding that when God's brought into the equation things can become considerably worse!

There was the recognition of the reality that the situation is as though the Palestinians and the Israelis are living in one very small house and intermingling is unavoidable. It's always tense, even in the forums within the church.

They drew upon the great reconciliation passages in the scriptures, from Ephesians 2 and 2 Corinthians 5. And they went on to review conflicting theologies. It would have been especially helpful to hear about their process of making peace but even within a generous portion of the morning there wasn't time.

This was a particularly stimulating part of the Council and one that I found especially interesting. Clearly there are no straightforward solutions though there are seeds of hope. Part of the way forward, as exemplified by Musulaha, is that of living together and staying with the pain while recognising the enormous cost that this unity entails.

During the day there were other good things that were brought as information and encouragement, and a chunk of time in the afternoon was given over to seminars. In the evening the whole Council visited the Nazareth Baptist School, where we enjoyed a delicious Middle Eastern BBQ followed with a presentation by the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel. This was interesting but, for me, familiar!

Friday, 23 September 2011

EBF Council - Day Two

Thursday morning included a number of reports - it is a Council meeting after all! Tony Peck, the General Secretary, reflected widely on the kind of society we want, where God's kingdom is, and the task of engaging our society. He noted that several Middle East leaders weren't with us because of the huge changes in their countries. He made a plea for religious freedom, alluding to Thomas Helwys' Short Declaration of 1612.

We heard a report from the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague (IBTS) which went on to update the Council on the financial situation and options.

It was particularly good to hear from three delegates who shared stories from their churches. The first was from Terje Aadne, the General Secretary of the Norwegian Baptist Union, reflecting on the attacks in Norway. He spoke movingly about the deep shock that has affected the nation and the way that the nation has been united in this tragedy with a resolve to stay together and protect democratic values. The church, both State and Baptist, is making a significant contribution, having opened wide its doors in the days following.

Christer Daelander spoke of his relationship with the Baptists in Uzbekistan and shared something of the struggles of the church in a context where they face significant opposition and persecution. We heard from another delegate about an exciting church planting initiative in Latvia.

Late afternoon we had a break and visited the Nazareth Village which is an authentic reconstruction of a village from the time of the first century -an interesting experience culminating with excellent food! It was especially good to meet up with friends from the Association of Baptist Churches (ABC) with whom the Central Baptist Association (CBA) has a relationship through the Baptist Twinning in Israel (BTI) - with apologies for acronym overkill!

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the Council takes place in the conversations during meals, breaks, and over a drink, when stories are told, new perspectives gained, connections made, and friendships formed.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

EBF Council - Day One

Yesterday was a travel day, exacerbated slightly by not being able to use air space over Greece. But it was in fine company and even EasyJet wasn't too uncomfortable.

A nice touch - at Luton Airport, Ian Handscombe, one of the chaplains, met us in the departure lounge and then came to see us off as we went through to the plane. Michael Banfield, the Senior Chaplain does a tremendous job and is greatly appreciated among the 8,000 staff who work at the airport.

We've now begun the first of the sessions, commencing with worship which was sung in Arabic and English. It was special to hear the reading from Luke 1, 'In the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a village in Galilee called Nazareth.' Karin Wiborn from Sweden emphasised 'Here in Nazareth' and stressed how the annunciation needs to take place in our lives.

This Council takes place at a very significant time for Israel and Palestine and there will be opportunities to pray for peace for Israel and Palestine.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

European Baptist Federation in Israel

Life is rarely monotonous! Two Sundays ago I was preaching in a small rural church with just a few people - we had a good morning! Last Sunday I was at the Milton Keynes City Church, Christ the Cornerstone, for their Covenant Service with a large attendance. This coming Sunday I'm preaching at one of the Baptist churches in Nazareth, Israel.

I will be attending the European Baptist Federation Council which starts today and concludes on Saturday. I hope to post, given time and internet access. I'm really looking forward to being there and particularly to hearing the perspective of those from the Middle East.

If you're asking 'How does Israel and the Middle East feature in a European Federation?' I'm tempted to say, 'If it's good enough for the Eurovision Song Contest ...' The fact is that many of these unions and conventions are there because of strong relationships with European Baptists and they're most welcome.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


I've joined facebook. 'What took you so long?' some of you might say. I've had some considerable resistance - I won't rehearse the reasons - until last week when at the Baptist Union Communications Committee that I moderate, I came to the conclusion that I really should have a go. If it threatens to get out of control I'll simply delete it!

My son Andrew gave me a tutorial on Skype, and I was away.  And I have to say I'm taken! It's been a fascinating experience of connectivity, and what's blown me away is that within a few hours I'd made contact with someone I haven't spoken to for thirty years!

I've just networked this blog to facebook, so I'll see how it works.

Twitter next? I don't think so, but you never know.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Recent viewing

Wondering when I can next justify yet another viewing of The West Wing, I've been watching the re-run of The Killing on BBC4 in advance of a new series. The first showing got rave reviews and I recall reading something along the lines of 'What are we going to do on Saturday evenings when the series comes to an end?' It's been screened Sunday to Thursday evenings from 10.00-11.00 for four weeks so it's been late night viewing and catch-up when I've missed it. From the first episode I got thoroughly hooked by this compelling drama. I haven't seen the American spin-off but the original Danish is mostly understated but constantly taut with superb characterisation and a plot that keeps you guessing almost to the end. It's dark, it's bleak and it's strangely satisfying.

Just before we hit the ground of September running, we had a terrific day in London with our friends Chris and Frances. Chris is a composer - Microjazz is one of his most popular series of compositions - and a highpoint, just as we were about to tuck into gourmet burgers, was Chris presenting me with the first movement of a trio he's writing for the Horizon Ensemble. What a gift! We'd just been to the Curzon Renoir to see in 3D, Pina, a film documentary about the dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. This was a wonderful, wonderful film, quirky, but moving and utterly enchanting. Clearly she had a huge influence on the dancers in her company and they spoke with reverence about the inspiration that she'd given them. The DVD came out the following week and I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Another noteworthy film was Submarine, a coming of age film, again, quite quirky but lovely. I'd love to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as it's getting almost constant five star reception. But September is far from over yet and I'm not yet back to enough of a moderate pace that would allow a cinema visit. Later maybe.