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Celebrating 30 years of active participation in Churches Together in England and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland



The Baptist Assembly agreed to join the new ecumenical instruments in 1989. Keith Jones marks this anniversary  



CTE Paul Goodliff Ruth Bottoms

Image | Baptist ministers Paul Goodliff and Ruth Bottoms at the 2018 Churches Together in England Forum. Paul became CTE General Secretary last year; Ruth is the Convenor of CTE’s Board of Trustees | Flickr | Jim Currin | CTE
 




Baptists Together (The Baptist Union of Great Britain) has, in general, always wanted to cooperate with other Christians in these islands. We were founder members of the large group of Protestant Churches in Britain and Ireland who created what today we call Christian Aid (1946) as a practical response; firstly to those suffering in the aftermath of the Second World War; and now as our churches-owned agency for addressing emergency and developmental issues throughout the two thirds world and campaigning for justice and peace with the strapline “we believe in life before death.”
 
At an earlier moment in 1942, the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) became a founder member of the British Council of Churches (BCC), the inaugural event being held in the Council Chamber of the old Baptist Church House in Southampton Row. BUGB participated in the life and work of the BCC with Dr E A Payne, when General Secretary, chairing the BCC Executive Committee from 1962 until 1971 and other key Baptists serving on the Assembly and on various committees and working groups. The Revd Basil Amey, a Baptist minister, was for many years Assistant General Secretary of the BCC.
 
By the 1980s there was a major development of regional ecumenical groupings (County Ecumenical Councils), a growth in local ecumenical partnerships and in many places cooperation between Protestant churches and Catholic parishes in local settings.
 
Those in leadership in the British Council of Churches, including prominent British Baptists, believed the time had come to consider new ways of working together which might include the Roman Catholic Church and some of the rapidly growing Pentecostal and African and Afro Caribbean churches. An Inter Church Process was undertaken to explore the form of any new structure and in this British Baptists participated.
 
At the 1989 Baptist Assembly, by a vote of 74 per cent in favour, the decision was taken to join the new organisations – the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CCBI) and Churches Together in England (CTE). The decisions caused difficulty for some members of the old BCC. The Baptist Union of Scotland felt unable to join Action for Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) and CCBI. However, the Baptist Union of Wales did join CYTUN (Churches Together in Wales). The Presbyterian Church in Ireland decided not to join CCBI because of the participation of the Roman Catholic Church.
 
However, the new ecumenical instruments included many additional denominations, not least the Roman Catholic Church and several black-led churches. The inauguration of the CCBI in Liverpool was a splendid occasion with an opening formal meeting in the Anglican Cathedral followed by a procession to the Catholic Cathedral for a service of praise and worship.
 
British Baptists, including John Nicholson and Hugh Cross, had been prominent in working groups to establish the new ecumenical bodies. The staffing of the new instruments saw Roger Nunn appointed as Field Officer for the south of England in CTE and Keith Clements take on the international portfolio in CCBI. The financial commitment of the denominations to these new bodies across the four nations was seen as a mark of a fresh desire for a deeper ecumenical commitment and this phase lasted until the mid 2000s, when demands on denominational finances let to cut backs and scaling down in ecumenical organisations in four nation, national and regional settings. This has been described as a new ecumenical winter.
 
Some in the British Baptist community were unhappy about the decisions taken at the 1989 Assembly in Leicester and pleaded for a fresh discussion and vote at the Baptist Assembly. This took place at Plymouth in 1995 and following a lively debate the Assembly voted 90.21 per cent in favour of remaining in CTE and 81.2 per cent in favour of Baptist membership of CCBI. These votes increased the majority on the 1989 decision!
 
Baptists had firmly decided to be committed to the wider ecumenical community in the British isles.

This committed involvement has continued. Baptist layperson, Dr David R. Goodbourn headed up the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland during a critical transition phase to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Gethin Abraham Williams was General Secretary of Cytun for several years. Today the Revd Dr Paul Goodliff, formerly Head of the BUGB Ministry Department, serves as General Secretary of Churches Together in England.
 
Alongside these national structures in the majority of local areas churches across the denominations work together through Churches Together groups. These flourish in their activities, running missions, community shops, cafes, foodbanks, chaplaincies in city centres, job clubs, debt centres, youth programmes, neighbourhood prayer schemes, Christian Aid activities and countless other forms of community engagement, which might be beyond the scope of one congregation, but become viable when several local churches work together. All of this is bathed in regular local ecumenical gatherings for prayer and worship. One focus of such united gatherings is coming up at Pentecost, where in parks and open spaces across the United Kingdom there will be acts of Pentecost Praise.
 
In 1989, reaffirmed in 1995, Baptists had firmly decided to be committed to the wider ecumenical community in the British isles, and we do not look back.



 

The Revd Dr Keith G Jones, President of the Baptist Historical Society, was Deputy General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain (1990-98), and Rector of the International Baptist Theological Seminary (1998-2013). 



This is the latest in a continuing series from Baptist Historical Society highlighting stories and moments from our past.

Earlier articles have looked at:

 

  • Anne Steele - marking the tercentenary of the birth of Anne Steele (1717-1778), a prolific Baptist hymn writer

  • W. T. Whitley - 'the outstanding British Baptist historian'

  • Edith Gates -  the first woman to be recognised as being in pastoral charge of an English Baptist church

  • Renewed for Mission, 50 years on - The 50th anniversary of George Beasley-Murray's presidential address 

  • Disestablishment - 'How do the churches relate to the state?' 

  • JH Shakespeare and The Churches at the Cross-Roads (1918) - The end of the Great War would lead to reconciliation and unity between churches alongside the call to peace among nations - a move anticipated, surprisingly, by a British Baptist leader. Keith Clements explains more   

  • The Salters' Hall debates - It's the 300th anniversary of a series of seminal debates among the dissenting community about connecting the Word with the world. Lessons and questions remain, writes Stephen Copson 

  • A BMS missionary in China - Why, 100 years after his death, the ministry of Timothy Richard still needs to be heard by the church today. By Andrew Kaiser


 

 



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