Courage... and encouragement
Nine Baptist churches founded in 1640 gathered for a 375th celebration at Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol on Saturday (19 September). It was both a time of looking back but also ahead, explains the Revd Paul Burnish, minister of one of the churches
The 1640 churches are: Abbey Baptist Church, Reading; Broadmead, Bristol; Alcester, Warwickshire; Kingsbridge, Devon; Castle Hill, Warwick; Dagnall Street, St Albans; Newbury; Kings Stanley, Gloucs and Berkhamsted, Herts
The day dawned misty but dry and large coaches, small coaches, mini buses and cars set out from all our nine 1640 churches to join together for our special joint anniversary service.
Heavy traffic, road works and finding parking places caused a number of last minute headaches but members of all our fellowships eventually made it to Broadmead Baptist church in the centre of Bristol.
What a delightful welcome we received and what a beautiful setting to share this special time together. We sang, with gusto, some wonderfully uplifting hymns and we were treated to hearing stories of the last 25 years - we had last gathered together for the 350th anniversary - of ups and downs of some of our fellowships.
Most of us were able to empathise with these stories as we had experience some, if not all, of the same ups and downs within our own fellowships.
Former Baptist Union General Secretary the Revd Jonathan Edwards, a member of Newbury Baptist Church in Berkshire, took the theme of “Courageous Faith” as his message and said that like our forefathers we needed to be courageous in our faith.
Courage, not in our case, to stand up and risk imprisonment, but for us to stand up against indifference, against injustice, against faiths without Christian truths. Courage to leave our comfort zones, both as church fellowships and as individuals.
To truly seek where God wants us to be, as we move forward into the next 25 years and to always remember that when we do this we are never alone, but that God will walk with us and graciously bless us along the way.
He also asked that as we go forward, we do so as encouragers. Encouragement is such a wonderful gift to give, and we should strive to give it as often and as fully as we can, one to another within our own fellowships and to each other’s Fellowships as we journey together in the coming years.
Next we had the thrill of singing for the very first time the hymn written specially for us by Graham Kendrick. How good was that!
Graham had adapted a hymn originally written by Benjamin Beddome (1717-1795), the son of John Beddome, the minister of Alcester Baptist Church. Benjamin was a prolific hymn writer and minister of Bourton on the Water Baptist Church.
The third verse recognised that the task of “Making Jesus known” is still unfinished.
It recognised our fellowships are small and so our workforce is limited thus making the task harder.
But, if we ask God to help us to renew our vision, faith and obedience, together we can reap a greater harvest for God. Indeed, one of the aspects of our time together was the sense of "What next? It what ways can we take the encouragements of today and continue to support each other?"
During our prayers we were encouraged to say together The Lord’s prayer – but not mumbled into our shoes, as is often the case, but with joyful “shouts” – to raise up all those precious words in a truly meaningful way.
So many things to share together and to take back to our fellowships in Warwick, Kingsbridge, St Albans, Berkhamsted, Reading, Kings Stanley, Newbury, Alcester, Bristol.
Our afternoon was rounded off by sharing together a time to chat over platefuls of beautiful sandwiches and cakes, for which we thank our Broadmead hosts.
The party had to end and at 6.00pm we set off back to our respective home towns, uplifted, challenged, encouraged and determined that, as the present custodians of our churches, we would strive to do our utmost to grow our churches and make Jesus known as widely as possibly within our communities, in the years to come.
This wasn't just a celebration of the past, it was an encouragement for the future.
The Revd Paul Burnish, minister of Abbey Baptist Church, Reading: 'The historic influence of these churches is fascinating and truly global from Britain to the Caribbean, to the Sub Continent, to Africa, to Australia, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. They have produced theologians and practical Christians who have been united in a common aim to share Christ.
'The churches themselves are full of history; for example Broadmead sent out and supported William Knibb to Jamaica who was influential in the abolition of slavery and also Joshua Marshman who went to India with William Carey and they still support Serampore College which he helped to found.
'The churches are also still active in their communities seeking to bring light into darkness and freedom to the oppressed. Our aim of bringing new life in Christ has remained the same over the last 374 years.'
The Revd John Houseago, minister of Broadmead Baptist Church, appreciated the following:
1. The genuine good will through the planning stages
2. Jonathan’s meticulous preparation and excellent address
3. The ordinariness of God’s faithfulness in the life of the churches
4. The conversations shared before and after the service
5. The number of people who remembered the 350th anniversary
The Revd Peter Burns, minister of Castle Hill Baptist Church in Warwick said, 'How great it was to hear real life stories of churches that have known their struggles over the last 25 years (undoubtedly in common with previous generations) and yet have come through with strength and renewed passion to see God at work in ordinary communities served by an extraordinary God.
'It was tremendously exciting too to receive Jonathan's challenge to go on encouraging one another with thankfulness for the blessings of the past.'
Stephen Ashby, minister of Berkhamsted Baptist Church, Herts, said, 'For those who attended 25 years ago at the 350 Anniversary - It was a poignant time of reflection on how God had been faithful in the challenges of life and the life of our churches.
'Jonathan Edwards sermon was both forward looking, inspiring and practical in its application
'Most commented on the balance of traditional and modern forms of worship representing the diversity of the nine churches In spite of the distance to travel it was well worth the effort - a milestone in our own church's life. Everybody was pleased they had come.
'Talk in the mini bus on the way home about the 400th Anniversary - we wondered!'
What's it like to be 375 years old? A reflection on King's Stanley Baptist Church celebrating its 375th anniversary and our joint celebrations at Broadmead Baptist Church
The Revd Paul Burnish is minister of Abbey Baptist Church, Reading