Being insulted by a great resource

Last BUGB/BMS Assembly post (I know it’s ugly, but I refuse to call it ‘The Baptist Assembly’ as the organisers do – we’ve got a Baptist Assembly here in Scotland, and there’s one in Wales, and so on). It’s approaching five years since Heather and I moved up here, and so five years since we’ve been to this particular Assembly. The highlight, unquestionably, was reconnecting with old friends and seeing and hearing how vocations and ministries have developed. I also rediscovered some circles I was once a part of. One was the Baptist Union Initiative with people with Learning Disabilities (BUILD), which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and continues to do creative and amazing things that are more gospel-shaped than any other mission initiative I’ve ever come across; the astonishing Faith Bowers, the best president BUGB never had, told me some of what was going on. Another was the Baptist Retreat Group, where I was greeted by Pamela Neville, whose ability to remember people is remarkable – we had met, but not often, and it was seven years ago…

BRG are revising all their ‘Occasional papers’, which in a few pages offered always wise and sometimes striking counsel on the call to prayer. Simple but necessary topics were covered (Margaret Jarman on ‘How to plan a retreat’; Will Thompson on ‘What is Spiritual Direction?’), along with others, where distinctive Baptist concerns overlapped with the wider retreat movement (Susan Stevenson on ‘Prayer and the City’; John Rackley on ‘The Spirituality of Peace’; Jim Gordon on ‘Listening to God in the Church Meeting’ – now there’s an idea!). As a result of the revision, copies of the old papers were being given away. I learned much from some of them once, but lost my copies in one or another house move; I was glad to be able to revisit them. Pam suddenly said, ‘You must have this one!’ and thrust into my hands John Rackley’s ‘Prayer in Midlife’.

Yeah, thanks, Pam. I’m not 40 yet, you know. Not quite…

She hastened to explain that ‘midlife’ did not mean ‘middle aged’. As John describes it in the paper, it is the collision of a sense of disastisfaction with the life you once struggled to construct for yourself, and the acceptance of the wounds, and the wounds to come, that those areas of life you cannot control inflict on you. One of the disconcerting realities of being around people in the retreat movement is their perceptiveness of the truth. Pam was right – this was for me.

John Rackley was the BUGB President who welcomed me into accredited ministry at the end of my less-than-glorious probationary period. In the paper he quotes Theilard and Jung; hardly my normal sources. But the practical suggestions are powerful. ‘Consider how your gifts have been a source of pain and suffering to you and to others.’ Ouch. But, yes – those wounds and that guilt are there, pricking and debilitating, making me hesitate to do the very things that God has, graciously, enabled me to be some use at.

It happens I have a retreat booked later this month. This time, from afar, Pam and John will be my guides.


  1. Jim Gordon
    May 13, 2009

    Hi Steve
    The BURG remains one of the most creative centres of Baptist reflective practice I know. Like much else in a world far too busy appraising, reviewing, and changing, the good people of BURG and all it stands for remind us that our life with God, our life together, and our life together with God, is a kind of non strategic strategy. Prayer by our very practice of it, is a protest against the pragmatic, the programmatic and the frenetic. And prayerful reflection on our lives a much more important appraisal than most any other. Blessings on your retreat later in the month.

  2. Steve H
    May 13, 2009

    ‘A protest against the pragmatic’ I love that phrase!

    The random avatar generator was not kind to you, Jim, by the way. Sorry!

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