We had wonderful weather on Sunday for the Spring High Tea at the manse and there was a wonderful variety of plates brought – from Kenyan maandazi to Aussie sausage sizzle, from delicious home-baked treats to delicious store-bought treats! It was a wonderful expression of the generosity and diversity of our congregation!
It was significant too to mark this historic moment, the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III (we could hear the 21 gun salute of the proclamation at Parliament House from the gardens) among a congregation historically identified as dissenters; separating from the recognised church because of our belief in the priesthood of all believers, the autonomy of the local church and freedom of conscience, and coming into conflict with the monarchy because we dared to state that the king was ‘a mortall man and not God’. (Jim Barr, a former minister of this church has written us a pastoral letter on this theme – relating it to the current challenge facing the Baptist Association of NSW/ACT. You will find his letter at the bottom of this email.) As we gathered in the sunshine on Sunday, reflecting on Jeanette’s excellent message and sharing our diverse gifts with one another, the strength of our Baptist values and their relevance to life and ministry today was reaffirmed for me.
My thanks to Jeanette for her sermon on Sunday. It is always wonderful what Jeanette brings from her deep stores of creativity, intelligence, and textual knowledge, and last Sunday was no exception. That “God doesn’t assess situations the way we might, deciding on the worth of something by its physical attributes or monetary value. Rather…God counts in ones, not thousands.” will stay with me. As will her reminder that we are called “to shepherd each other in community” – tying that back to our theme of listening and learning and sharing our gifts to build this community and venture in new areas of mission together.
This week you have all been receiving Steve’s emails with questions to respond to – directly or by sending an email to Steve (firstname.lastname@example.org). Can I strongly encourage you to take some time to answer one or two (ideally – all five!) of these emails this week. We want to use your responses to gauge where the heart of this congregation is for ministry and mission, and to direct and shape that mission. So how you respond is vitally important. No pressure! And after the service this Sunday, Steve will be facilitating the third and final conversation in this Listening, Learning, Listing process. Please come and stay for that conversation (even if you haven’t found time to answer the emails) if you are excited to explore new areas of ministry and mission for our church.
Grace and peace be with you,
Dear Simon and Belinda,
Greetings to you both, and to the churches at Collins Street and at Canberra.
I write as a former Pastor of those churches, recalling their sense of history and treasuring the deep commitment that each church has made for many decades to the life of the great cities in which they have been placed. Collins Street and Canberra have always valued both Baptist history and tradition, especially our commitment to freedom of thought, and the life of their cities and our nation.
At Box Hill we are focussing this morning on the death of Queen Elizabeth II and what it means for us. As part of my sermon, I will note that Baptists and British Kings and Queens have not always got on smoothly. In 1614 Thomas Helwys sent King James I a copy of his book A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity with a personal note reminding the King that he was ‘a mortall man and not God’ and suggesting that he ‘listen up’ (as a modern young person might express it). James responded by consigning him to Newgate Prison where he died two years later.
I was moved by the accession speech of King Charles III from St James’ Palace yesterday. King Charles made a point of how much he accepted freedom of religion – a core element of Helwys’ book – and would defend it as a central part of his reign. In the early 20th century Edward VIII was forced by church and society to abdicate rather than marry a divorcee: in the early 21st century a new King (married to a divorcee!) names and affirms the radical religious freedom that Baptists died for in the early 17th century.
Now all of this is a reflection of wider social changes and some of the turbulent conditions that Elizabeth II navigated over the last 70 years. While she was an old and essentially conservative woman, the changing ‘freedoms’ that her own children and grandchildren have lived through (including scandals and divorces) – as so many of her subjects and their children have had to live through – have under her leadership changed both monarchy and society in quite profound ways.
As I listened to the King’s speech I was saddened again by where [Baptists find themselves]. The proposed changes to the Constitution of the BUV, and the latest developments in the Baptist Union in NSW/ACT suggest that freedom to follow Christ is no longer a matter for private conscience and for gathered churches praying and meeting together but is best decided by Executive Councils and Assemblies.
The irony of this is that it would appear His Majesty King Charles III is a greater defender of freedom of thought and religion than the Baptist Unions of which we have been…a part.
Jane and I send our warm greetings to Collins Street and to Canberra Baptist Churches. We recall our ministries with both these wonderful communities with deep joy and affection, and we greet you in the name of Jesus on this significant day.
Grace and peace,
(Rev) James Barr