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International Baptist scholars in Oxford 

The place and impact of Baptists in higher education was discussed at the annual Baptist Scholars International Roundtable (BSIR), which took place in Oxford in August.

Sally Nelson was among those invited to present a paper, and explains more  

BSIR group on steps 2

A multinational group of ministers and researchers spent three days in August in the beautiful setting of Christchurch College, Oxford, discussing the place and impact of Baptists in higher education. The papers ranged widely and covered ministerial formation, digital teaching, the wider culture of HE and how theology can impact it, and some revelatory material on the colonialism that Baptists have actually reinforced in some locations. There was a brief shocked silence after one paper described the way US Baptists exported to Brazil a deeply racist infrastructure under the name of mission.    

Baylor University in the USA convenes this annual Baptist Scholars International Roundtable (BSIR). Seven Scholars are invited from different countries to offer papers on a selected theme. The Roundtable is an opportunity for less established researchers to debate in a friendly and supportive environment. Each BSIR Scholar presents a paper and then receives a response from a BSIR Fellow before general discussion.

BSIR sign 2This year, British Baptists were represented by Professor Paul Fiddes, who was the Distinguished Fellow for 2022 and gave the opening address and closing summary papers; and Dr Lina Toth from the Scottish Baptist College, who is another BSIR Fellow; Sally Nelson of St Hild College was one Scholar and another Scholar with British experience was Kevin Wilhite, who spent years working in Wales and studying in the South Wales College, but has now returned to  pastorate in the USA.

Discussions continued and international friendships were initiated not just round the work table but at mealtimes and during a tour of Regent’s Park College organised by Paul Fiddes, where we were able to see some of the Angus Library’s Baptist collection – such as a copy of Thomas Helwys’ Short Declaration.

This Roundtable was an example of Baptist connection at its best, with established researchers alongside, and encouraging, newer ones. The papers are listed below: it was refreshing to get a glimpse of the issues and debates that are important in other parts of the world, to identify the things that are common to us all in God’s mission, and to re-evaluate our own impacts on our communities. 

The sun shone, the surroundings were amazing, and we came away enriched and encouraged from our conversations. I have certainly made some new friends and I am grateful to the BSIR sponsors and to God for this opportunity. The group was convened, administered and organised with grace and efficiency by Dr Laine Scales and Dr Joao Chaves of Baylor, and we were all most grateful for their help. More information can be found here.

This year’s papers, which will be offered to a peer reviewed journal after revision, included:

  • Turning the Tables on Pastoral Formation: Training for Developing Sustainability and Effectiveness in Pastoral Leadership Today by Keith Mitchell. This paper explored burnout among pastors and offered an argument for embedding the development of emotional intelligence across the curriculum to increase resilience.
  • Is Theology Caught or Taught? Multilogue as a Metaphor for Theological Education by Sally Nelson. The argument here is for relocating, and rethinking the theology of, formation to respond effectively to the 21st century UK context.  
  • Baptist Intellectuality and Brazilian Structural Racism by Fellipe dos Anjos Pereira, which is probably the paper that stopped us all in our tracks. The Baptist missionaries from the southern states of the US exported a whole oppressive structure which Fellipe exposes and explores.
  • Keeping Faith: Maynard Adams and Baptist Higher Education in the wake of Cultural and Economic Crisis by T. Perry Hildreth, which explores the way in which values are subordinated to facts in the West, and the impact of this on education and culture.    
  • Forming Community in a Digital Age: The Challenge to Baptist Higher Education by Kevin Wilhite. Kevin takes the important topic of the move to digital teaching and explores how we form meaningful relationships through new technology.
  • Baptist Education and the Beloved Community: A Promising Partnership by Dumas A. Harshaw. This paper gave a fascinating insight into Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr’s appropriation of the reality of the Beloved Community (a community of justice and peace), and the place of higher education in this development. 
  • Foreign Standards for Home Mission: American Baptist Home Mission Society’s Ministerial Education Program in Early Twentieth Century Cuba by Grace Vargas. This paper explored the way in which the contribution of native Cuban Christians to mission was overlooked and diminished by the ABHMS.   

The Revd Dr Sally Nelson is Dean of Baptist Formation at St Hild College, Yorkshire (partnered with Northern Baptist College)

Baptist Times, 15/08/2022
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