Report and pictures by Joolz Walker
This year’s theme was “Living Generously – growing into the people God wants us to be” and the event took place at St Thomas’s Church, Crookes, Sheffield.
Regional Ministers the Revd Graham Ensor and the Revd Mary Taylor welcomed representatives from the YBA churches and Graham read from 1 Chronicles 29 v 10-14 – David’s Prayer – setting the theme for the day.
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying: “Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
“Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
Mary introduced the keynote speaker the Revd Alan Donaldson, General Director of the Baptist Union of Scotland, who shared stories and reflected on what it means to live generously.
“Someone must have a sense of humour to invite a Scotsman to come to Yorkshire to speak on generosity,” he joked, adding that the Wikipedia definition of a Yorkshireman was a Scotsman with all the generosity squeezed out and cited the Yorkshireman’s motto: “Hear all, see all, say nowt...” conceding that at the very least Scotsmen and Yorkshiremen liked to get value for their money!
Alan’s humorous story-telling style captivated his audience. “The challenge of Scripture is to become counter-cultural people,” he said. This meant going from tight-fisted to open-handed. “Materialism is meaningless, it is chasing after the wind,” he warned. “You will never take hold of it, it will take hold of you and grip you.”
He focused on God’s generosity, an overflowing generosity and asked the gathering for examples from Scripture, the key one being John 3 v 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“He is God without a risk assessment, without a calculator; He is lavishing his gifts upon us, there is no calculation about how much is too much,” he said. The story of the Prodigal Son showed how God was overflowing with grace and generosity. “God welcomes home those who have gone astray.”
Alan reminded us we needed to have the same attitude as Jesus, and asked what generosity looked like today. There was no point waiting for a lottery win or waiting till you had more - “Do it now! It needs to permeate our lives,” he said.
“Generosity is so counter-culture when materialism and looking after number one are prevalent the world over,” he said.
We were meant to be turning away from the old way of thinking and going the way of Christ. We would see amazing things if God’s people grasped His generosity and started acting on it.
“So many churches in Scotland are dying in selfishness,” he warned. “There are places where offerings are not a gift to God – they are more of an insurance premium.” There was nothing Christ-like in the attitude: ”Just remember who pays your wages pal.”
“Until it changes, these churches are on the path to closure. Where is the generosity?”
He said some churches were giving away 10% - why not 90%?
He looked at daily life and how we could be generous in the small things. He focused on his own life over the last two weeks and how he could have been more generous. “My life has to change,” he said.
“It freaks people out when you start being generous – they don’t know how to handle it.”
He gave examples of generous living including how a member of staff at an exclusive London tennis club went the extra mile to help a player when there was no food being served at the club. They went to a shop and bought the player a pie. That person was left a £550 tip.
He told of how a church in Aberdeen was running a small low-cost cafe and all the profits were ploughed into the community not the church. The church received an award for its generosity.
Quoting James Chapter 5, he urged people to combat hoarding – in the churches as well as in their homes. A small church in Glasgow had set up a small shop to pass on their surplus items as a one-off. Three years later it was still operating and a food bank had been opened and there were plans to set on a community worker.
Alan focused on churches’ spending – when churches grew there was a tendency to set on more pastors and buy better equipment. “Has it got out of hand? More for us – instead of more to give away?” In Scotland there were bi-vocational ministers and their churches had grown substantially so they could afford full-time ministers. But they had decided not to and instead this money was going to their communities – they were catching something of the heart of God.
Alan said we could be generous with our forgiveness because churches were weakened by historical infighting and quarrelling. He spoke of one Scottish church which had a history of ministers staying for only short periods - until a new minister came and visited everyone who had had links with the church and listened to their stories of hurt, pain, anger and disappointment. He collated this information for the 24 people in the church and encouraged them to take responsibility for the sins of their forefathers and put right what had gone wrong.
Those who had been hurt were invited to the church and apologies were made and there was a service of reconciliation. Eighteen months later the church had grown to 110 worshippers. He encouraged churches to work together and be generous to one another.