What a weekend! Let me first say that Des and Janice’s renewal of vows was wonderful! And the pictures I have seen of Marlene’s big birthday (was it 60, Marlene?) celebrations looked absolutely lovely! Saturday’s Baptist Assembly, however, was a very different story!
Sunday passed in a bit of a blur, but sitting in church, I really appreciated the songs Steve had chosen.
First, ‘Let us build a house,’ with that wonderful welcoming refrain, “All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
As Steve mentioned, before he prayed for our church and me and the leadership team, this is our bottom line here at Canberra Baptist. This is our bottom line as a ministry team and as a church – that all are welcome in this place!
We will continue to offer a genuine welcome to LGBTIQ+ people. One that is not qualified. One that does not treat them as second-class Christians. One that sees them as enjoying the same freedoms in Christ that we all enjoy, and as having the same responsibility to work out their salvation with fear and trembling as we all do. To get very Baptist – one that regards them as priests in this priesthood of believers along with the rest of us.
All are welcome.
Our second hymn was ‘God, give us peace that lasts – not through the fear of might, but through the force of love and love of life and right.’
Saturday’s Assembly was a sad turning point for our Association. No longer do we simply have a statement on marriage stating that marriage is between a man and a woman. What we have now is a system to enforce compliance with that statement. If you do not sign the documents every five years, as a minister or as a church, to say you support that statement (support meaning “approve of and not act contrary to”), you will be removed from the Association.
Or there is a kind of limbo where you could remain (for how long has not yet been determined) – neither supporting nor refusing to support the statement – but if you choose this option, you lose your voting rights within the Association.
Some of the detail is still to be decided. Saturday’s Assembly had 22 motions to work though, and we only managed to work through 9, so the Assembly will be continued in February. And there are changes to the Constitution, that will be decided in May – and will be resisted by about 30% of our Association! – but with a simple majority being all that is required for them to pass, it seems unlikely the Association’s current trajectory will change.
“God give us peace that lasts – not through the fear of might, but through the force of love and love or life and right.”
That seems to me to be a very Baptist prayer, a very freedom of conscience prayer, in the face of a supposedly Baptist organisation wielding might to enforce a false peace.
Third, ‘Here in this place new light is streaming’.
I am not claiming that Canberra Baptist, and other churches in our Association, are more enlightened than others. I will never claim that.
But I do believe that the light of God continues to shine anew and afresh on us each day.
In that Malcolm Gladwell podcast, I mentioned two weeks ago, his three-part series on casuistry, he also features the story of John Rock, the most famous physician in the United States, the co-inventor of the birth control pill and a devout Catholic. He served the Irish poor around Boston during the Depression and Second World War, usually providing his services free of charge, and knew first-hand the impact of poverty on the lives of young women having multiple pregnancies and children, children they could not afford to feed or clothe.
The episode includes a recording of a television interview, in John Rock’s later years, when he is reading some of the mail he received every day, much of it hate mail from conservative Christians.
One woman writes to him, “Your article in the magazines in regard to birth control is rather nauseating. Did you ever think of the day you would meet your God and account for your work while on earth? I can hardly believe that you or anyone else can interfere with a divine natural law.”
John Rocks responds, “I’m sorry I upset your stomach. You may be very sure that I’ve gone through some inner pains myself over this problem that I am so concerned with. As far as meeting my God, I have been taught and I believe that he is here with me all the time. As I have to meet him every day, I really try to conform to what he tells me is the thing to do.”
That is what I believe for us as a church as well. God is here with us all the time. As we meet with God every day, we are constantly trying to conform to what God wants us to do.
So, we are going to keep being Canberra Baptist Church!
We are going to keep worshipping together on Sundays, meeting together throughout week and praying together as often as we can! We are going to keep loving our neighbours, being kind and generous and building a church community that is inclusive and genuinely caring and genuinely welcoming. We are going to continue sharing the love and justice of God – as best we can understand it – in our words and actions. And as we do this here in this place, new light will continue to shine!
Finally, let me remind you of the words we were sent out with on Sunday – our final hymn!
God gives us a future, daring us to go
into dreams and dangers on a path unknown.
….Love us into action, stir us into prayer,
till we choose God’s life and find our future there.
Amen to that!
PS For a really fabulous article on Saturday’s Assembly – read this by Erin Sessions from Thornleigh Community Baptist Church – https://www.abc.net.au/religion/have-baptists-just-sold-their-soul-over-same-sex-marriage/14103278