The Baptist Assembly – an update
This year’s Baptist Assembly is now full! We are delighted that all available tickets have been taken, and look forward to welcoming delegates to the King’s Centre in Oxford on 14 May.
With this year's venue capacity having been reached, we are now evaluating our future plans for the Assembly. Next year at the Harrogate International Centre we will have a large capacity as we try to plan for an Assembly that is large enough for all who want to come, while at the same time ensuring that we get the best value in terms of not over-specifying venue size.
The notes below are the story of recent Assembly developments, outlining how the event has evolved and indicating how everyone with an interest can have a say in Assembly's future.
For many years Assembly was a series of services and business meetings mainly assembling in London. From the 1990s, in partnership with BMS World Mission, it developed something of the character of a Christian conference, with a residential experience enriching fellowship and a comprehensive menu of fringe meetings, special interest groups and exhibitions, alongside the formal business of the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) and BMS.
Futures and and other factors
The last Assembly in this format took place in 2013 - a time when the recommendations of the BUGB Futures process began to be implemented.
In the run up to 2013 Assembly had been suffering from falling numbers, financial losses, and a need to rethink content, which led to the decision by BUGB and BMS to experiment with a series of one-day assemblies for the years 2015-17.
A one-day event
The search for suitable venues began for the experimental period. Our best advice suggested one-day events would be unlikely to attract more than 1,000 delegates. So, in order to ensure financial viability, the Kingsgate Centre in Peterborough was secured for 2015, and the King’s Centre in Oxford for the following year. Venues in Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds were under consideration for 2017.
The first of the new experimental one-day Assemblies duly took place on 16 May, 2015 in Peterborough. For the first time in many years every single ticket for the Baptist Assembly was taken. Surveys of delegates suggested that many were first time delegates, attracted by the location, intergenerational format and shortened length. This success contributed to the choosing of a larger venue, in Harrogate, for 2017.
With us needing to book Assembly two venues in advance, we held to the choice of the King's Centre in Oxford for 2016, with that location also meeting the aim of bringing the Assembly to parts of the country that hadn't previously hosted it.
With a capacity audience for the second year running, we have acknowledged the need for a larger capacity, with Harrogate meeting that need in 2017.
Feedback, and the future of the Baptist Assembly
During this experimental period the aim was to enable each Assembly to be different in character, shaped by the facilities available. In response to many requests, the 2016 event features a key session dedicated to our response to the refugee crisis. There was also much discussion after Peterborough about the changing way ministers transferring to the accredited list were recognised, and this feedback has been incorporated into the planning of the 2016 event.
This, though, remains a period of experimentation, and the story of the Baptist Assembly is an on-going one. As planned, we will review progress immediately after the 2016 event, as a venue for 2018 need to be secured quickly. We plan to consult widely on that review.
Further details on how to contribute to this review will be made known by both BUGB and BMS in the coming months.
The importance of the Baptist Assembly in our shared life together
While reflecting on its format, we must continue to remember why we have a Baptist Assembly. Former Baptist Union President Chris Ellis was invited to explain this for the Spring 2016 edition of Baptists Together magazine. He wrote:
The Baptist Assembly is a time where we gather to worship God and to seek his will for our life and witness together. We network with old friends and encounter new people we don’t know but who join with us in making up this particular expression of the Body of Christ, Baptists Together. We organise meetings to inform and stimulate, we hold debates to sharpen our understanding, and we share meals and swap stories together. Above all we worship together – as praise and confession, intercession and scripture, shape and direct our shared life and witness.
But in all this we need to hold on to our vision of how assembly helps us – to be open to God, to encourage one another in discipleship and mission, and to gather intentionally to celebrate and pray for the coming Kingdom of God.
Thank you for your interest in the Baptist Assembly. For all who are booked to come we look forward to welcoming you to Oxford next month. For those disappointed to be missing this year’s event, we hope that next year will provide even greater participation.
Everyone can contribute to this year’s event through the Flames of Prayer initiative instigated by General Secretary Lynn Green. The Baptist Assembly can be followed via Facebook, and Twitter (both the Assembly account and #bap16)
There will also be reports and photos on the Baptist Assembly website (www.baptistassembly.org.uk) following the event, as well as coverage in The Baptist Times.