On opening church buildings for private prayer

We should open our buildings for private prayer as soon as we can. Not for the members, but as a mission opportunity. This week it seems likely that the First Minister will announce that Scotland is moving to Phase 2 of our lifting of lockdown, which includes the opening of places of worship for private prayer—a move made this past weekend in the rather less orderly English system. I suspect that for most Baptists, the instinctive response will be to shrug; our spirituality does not have that sense of sacred space, or at least not of ecclesially-authorised sacred space. We might have our own ‘thin places’, where for us ‘prayer has been valid’, but they are probably not significantly connected to local church buildings. I think this response would be a mistake....

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But what can I do? A beginner’s tool kit 1: knowing

[I’ve been wanting to write this all week, but our marking deadline was today…] Plenty of White British folk like me have this week been asking—but what can I do? It was a question I first asked myself seriously after watching the events in Charlestown, VA, in 2017. This post is a beginner’s tool kit, written by a beginner of almost three years’ experience, for beginners with even less, in the hope that it helps someone. This post is about knowing—knowing how to begin to understand white supremacy. I plan to add a couple more on ‘doing’ and ‘giving’ soon. This is specifically for people in the UK churches, and began from wanting to take seriously several conversations with Black British church leaders who expressed some...

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Prosopal presence: our current conundrum

When we meet online, are we meeting ‘face to face’? My colleague Elizabeth Shively gave us an excellent sermon this morning in our series on 1Thess.; I won’t repeat what she said (its on our church FB page, and well worth the watch), but before she began my attention was caught by a word in the reading. Throughout the letter Paul expresses his regrets that he is absent from the Thessalonian believers, his longing to see them, and his eagerness for news of them. In 3:10 he prays ‘Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face’ (NRSV) ‘May see you face to face’ translates τὸ ἰδεῖν ὑμῶν τὸ πρόσωπον; it was the word πρόσωπον that caught my eye (I was following the reading in the original, as I usually do); it’s a word I’ve thought about a lot....

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On not having closed our churches

Language matters. It matters more in how it is heard than in how it is meant. If we want to communicate certain things, then disciplined use of language can help us, because it will improve the chances of what we want to say being heard, rather than being misunderstood. There was a time when we British Baptists would not have thought of calling the building we met in for worship a ‘church’. We knew that the church was the congregation, gathered together by God, covenanted to each other before God. If the church habitually met in a particular building, we called that a ‘chapel’. ‘Church,’ we once understood, meant people, saved by grace, making expansive vows to each other because God has called us together. ‘Chapel,’ we used to know, meant a building, where the...

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On ‘Kitchen Table Eucharists’: a plea to my Anglican friends

It is, to my regret, nearly ten years since I last joined in worship with the small fellowship at Hawkshead Hill Baptist Church in Cumbria. My memories of the fellowship are warm; my memories of the building in which they meet, and of the garden behind it, are vivid. The building is an ancient cottage, registered for worship in 1709. There is no historical record of what changes were made as it was registered for worship, but very probably the kitchen table was the only table, and so became the place where the Eucharist was celebrated for those people. The Baptists had begun in Hawkshead in 1678, at a time when the Church of England was aggressively devoted to persecuting anyone who would not worship according to its formularies (even though then, as now, it...

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Can we celebrate an online Eucharist? A Baptist response 2: Some possible objections

I argued in the previous post that an online Eucharist could be a theological possibility for Baptist Christians. I here want to consider and forestall some potential criticisms: The need for ‘physical’ presence Do we need to be physically together to meet around the Lord’s Table? Yes, but let me interrogate what that means. Too much recent writing in this area has worked with a ‘physical’/’virtual’ dichotomy, which makes no sense. Signals in fibre optic cables and electromagnetic waves are physical realities; our shared presence together in an online—virtual—meeting is therefore a mediated physical presence. What it is not is a somatic presence; we are not together bodily. This distinction is important. There may be eucharistic practices that require somatic...

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Can we celebrate an online Eucharist? A Baptist response 1: A positive argument

For us Baptists, I think that there are two possible ways of asserting that an online/scattered Eucharist is possible: one is obvious but bad, and one less obvious but better; both are completely dependent on distinctives of Baptist ecclesiology.

The first is the suggestion that we can have many household communions at the same time; the second the idea that we might celebrate one communion, even if we are in separate homes as we do.

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