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Welcome to the archive of Beyond 400 - an innovative collaborative project of BUGB Baptists re-imagining life after the first 400 years.  You can still read and comment on the first 40 Baptist Voices that were published in the early months of 2012 and other voices that were added afterwards at Go Fly a Kite. The book of the 40 voices is no longer for sale.

Thanks to the many who submitted articles and joined in the ensuing online conversations which are archived here.
Peter Dominey, Juliet Kilpin, Neil Brighton, Andy Goodliff, Simon Jones, Chris Duffet.

8. That's my church

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Mosaic with the word imagineSo there she was, a small woman, a lawyer, sitting behind an enormous desk piled high with manila folders. Each one charting the whereabouts of husbands, brothers, sons who had disappeared off the streets of El Salvador during its years of tyranny. With eyes that sparkled when she spoke she told us of the problems getting justice for people in a system where the army behaved with impunity. We had already passed the long queue of people waiting to see her, bringing yet more names, more stories, more despair. And there she was, running the Archdiocese of San Salvador’s Human Rights office, day in day out, terrier like in her conviction. Facing death threats herself, we asked the question ‘Tell us, do you have the support of the church in what you’re doing?’ A moment passed and through a steely gaze she replied, ‘I am the church.’

That’s my church.

Living in a neighbourhood wracked with tension and violence at the mercy of rival gangs, a mother looked on as two groups began to square up to each other outside her house. Asking God and herself what she could do right here, right now, the bell went on her oven. The cakes were ready. Piling them on to a cooling rack she opened the door and walked into the middle of the young people gathered. ‘You know, I’ve just made these. Do you think they’re any good?’ Confused looks, half smiles and an empty cooling rack later, the young men and women stopped to chat and then melted away.

That’s my church.

Gathered with a group from church who wanted to read a book together, we looked at Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Church.’ A gathering of people, not over confident nor theologically trained, took the book apart.  A community of theologians was born.

That’s my church.

A small church hanging on in there with a vision that seemed very distant in the realising, singing psalms of hope, holding on to visions of God’s love, believing that, small though they were,  God was going to use them to build his kingdom on their patch. Tenacious and audacious, standing up to and challenging any number of powers, the hopes were realised, the kingdom was grown, and continues to flourish in a part of Oxfordshire, graced, blessed, emboldened.

That’s my church.

A newcomer to faith tentatively asking if I could recommend a book he could read to help him to understand the Bible better. Knowing that the church had a group of people asking the very same question gave him opportunity not only to learn stuff in his head, but to see how that learning was embodied, worked out, in the lives of those gathered.

That’s my church.

Sitting next to a woman at the Prism Communion at the Assembly who was hammering nails into the wooden cross, sobbing silently. A conversation afterwards. Her son had just been sent to prison and this was the first time she had been able to pray for him and for herself. She knew the depth of sorrow and found it inhabited by God.

That’s my church.

Discovering the ‘A Common Word’ initiative from Islamic scholars, seeking to build a radically new understanding with Christians around the great commandment of both faiths, and learning that the Baptist World Alliance response to it was profoundly welcomed by those scholars (www.acommonword.com)

That’s my church.

Being a cradle Baptist this is the community that welcomed me, held me, taught me, baptised me, discipled me, blessed me, employed me, grew me, radicalised me and, warts and all, continues to enliven me. This is the community stuffed full of people who showed me what following Jesus looks like – not just talking about it, although I’m glad they did, but by doing it themselves. Lives patterned by the cross and galvanised by the resurrection.  And that’s our secret. We walk with each other. Our names are known. We face God in worship, we face each other in community and together we face the world – in loving, courageous, prophetic ways in the name of Jesus Christ. And any structure, scaffolding or framework  is only needed inasmuch as it makes that happen without getting in the way.

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Photo with thanks to Kore under this licence

Sian Murray Williams is a Baptist Minister and a Tutor at Bristol Baptist College. She teaches worship, preaching, ecclesiology and spirituality. She is Moderator of the Union’s Faith & Unity Executive.

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