British Baptists face the changes: First black female President inducted

British Baptists face the changes: First black female President inducted

Chris Hall - May 04, 2006

Dramatic statistics: Over 30,000 children have left BUGB in the last two years

B r i g h t o n - British Baptists are experiencing great changes, something which was evident at their annual Baptist Assembly, held this past weekend in Brighton, England (28 April to 30 April 2006).

In a lecture entitled ‘A Missionary Union: past, present and future perspectives’, Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) General Secretary, the Revd David Coffey, analysed the changes in society. He said “What I find refreshing about ‘emerging church’ is their attempt to read and understand contemporary culture and take church culturally closer to people.” The Revd Coffey went on to argue that ‘emerging church’ might be a sign of things to come and Baptists should “listen with care to this new phenomenon”. The inspiration of ‘emerging church’ was seen at the Assembly through Prism, interactive sessions which explored the same Bible passages being preached on in the main arena, using poetry, art, creative writing and music.

The new BUGB Annual Report was made available at Assembly and at first glance may not reflect much change compared to previous years. The number of churches in the Union has remained fairly constant (down minimally to 2,092) and the number of church members in Baptist churches rose only slightly (up around 600 to 141,584).  

However, the statistics concerning the number of children in Baptist churches are dramatic; over 30,000 children have left in the last two years. This has prompted the Union to call for a national day of prayer and awareness on 11 June 2006, called on our knees, to highlight the issue. The Revd Nick Lear, one of the Union’s Mission Advisers, encouraged the Assembly saying that churches with a mission ethos in their children’s work were growing, and that ‘there is hope’.

Contemporary issues both in the UK and beyond were discussed. A public resolution was passed on human trafficking for sexual exploitation, calling the UK government to do more to alleviate the problem. EBF General Secretary, the Revd Tony Peck, was one of many who endorsed the resolution, and BMS World Mission, which shares the Assembly with the Baptist Union, agreed to lobby the Albanian government where trafficking is especially acute.

Also discussed were issues of peace and violence including Israel/Palestine and the replacement of Britain’s nuclear Trident submarines. Possibly the most famous Baptist peace campaigner at present, former hostage in Iraq Norman Kember, was there with his wife Pat. He described his experiences in Iraq in a special late evening interview. “My misfortune has resulted in many wonderful things,” he said. “It was an opportunity for people to come together and discuss the true reality of Christian peacemaking.”

The biggest change that British Baptists made at their Assembly though, was in their leadership. The Revd Kate Coleman, who pastors in Birmingham, was inducted as the Union’s first black female President, an honorary position she will hold for the next year. On Saturday evening she gave a powerful address on Acts 10 entitled Stay Focused – Presumptions, prejudices and power. Her appointment shows the growing contribution to the Union by those from different ethnic backgrounds and black majority churches. 

After fifteen years of service, the Assembly paid tribute to David Coffey, as he retires to focus on his role as President of the Baptist World Alliance. The Revd Ian Coffey, a Baptist minister of Crossroads Church in Geneva, Switzerland and David’s younger brother, flew in to introduce the tribute. David and his wife Janet were then commissioned for his work with the BWA, alongside BMS mission personnel going to serve in countries including Afghanistan, Tunisia and France.

The Revd Jonathan Edwards, currently Team Leader of the South West Baptist Association, was unanimously voted in as David Coffey’s successor. Responding, Revd Edwards said, “In calling me to be General Secretary you have called someone who is passionate about prayer, about the gospel and about working in gracious partnership.” He will take up his new post in September. A new era for British Baptists is about to begin.