For our Special Assembly in late February this year, a ‘never-before’ act of almost 500 people (representing 150 churches) gathered across eight different venues in NSW & ACT! In an Assembly where ensuring discussion and including a broad range of people was vital, we were reminded that baptists in all regions should be able to gather. Thanks to hard work from the Association, we broke new ground on the technology side with a live stream allowing churches far from Sydney to listen and be heard. Hear from some of our live site hosts below!
Michael Hutton is the Pastor of Tamworth Baptist Church. A love for rural churches brought his family to Tamworth – despite the country music. Tamworth is part of the New England North-West region, where the (small number of) baptist circles are quite spread out. They’re on the edge of the great dividing range, and the mountains interfere with getting from one place to another in straight lines. “We’re about 5 hours from Sydney,” Michael explains, “but Moree Baptist is about 3 hours from us. So for us to get to an Assembly in Sydney is a big day, but doable. But for the Moree guys, it’s virtually impossible…So we thought, we have a nice facility, these guys are closer to us; we’ve got to do something for them!”
In Tamworth, six of the seven regional baptist churches were involved at the recent Special Assembly. Less than half of those churches could get to Sydney for an Assembly in the city, so having Tamworth Baptist host a live site made a huge difference in letting those people get involved! “Even though there was some level of angst (because we’re all aware that the theme of the Special Assembly is an important topic), the tone of our day was actually one of fellowship! We were so pleased to be able to sit down and pray with people from over two hours away,” Michael says. “There was a lot of time spent processing particular viewpoints, but when we had breaks it was really nice to eat and chat together. And actually, some of the guys who lived the farthest away were the ones who hung around talking long after we finished!”
For Michael, the use of technology “allows us to connect where maybe we couldn’t at all”. But, as Covid-19 has taught us, nothing beats a good face-to-face gathering! “A concern I have is that we might end up being not as connected as we think we are – because there’s a cluster here and a cluster there, and they’re not actually well connected in a relational way; in an ‘I’ve sat down and prayed with you’ kind of way,” Michael says. “It’s not going to stop us hosting the online thing – because for some of our regional churches, what are they going to do? But I do think every now and then we might actually jump in the car and go and meet everybody in Sydney – since we’re part of something bigger.”
Cecelia Aull is the Office Manager at Canberra Baptist Church. “It’s funny to see how things have changed in the last year: we’ve got this super old traditional looking church – built in the 1920’s – with stained glass windows all down the sides, old school wooden pews and a baptistry up the front, and now mounted on our pipe organ are cameras, phones and cords all taped up,” Cecelia says. “It’s a funny juxtaposition of the old and new ways of doing church!” And Canberra Baptist embraced this “new way” by hosting for the Special Assembly. “Canberra is about 3 hours from Sydney,” Cecelia says. “It was certainly convenient being able to be an active baptist member without sacrificing your whole weekend!” Cecelia was the point of contact when it came to organising the live site. “At first I was like, ‘oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?’ But actually, Emma (Baptist Churches Events Coordinator) did so well with providing clear instructions that our volunteers were easily able to follow. It wasn’t too much work for us.” And she sees a benefit in the way Special Assembly was run across our states: “When you’re all in the same room and wanting to talk, it can be chaos! So I personally like the idea of having separate locations, because in a way the meeting can be more structured and controlled; you can say, ‘we’re going to talk in this order and then move on’. And there isn’t that pressure to let everyone in the room talk.” But, like Michael, Cecelia says: “The disadvantage is you don’t get to have your big ol’ Baptist catch up with all the people you only see at these meetings!”
In the Hunter, Matthew Brown (Regional Minister* for the Hunter region) and Marsha Ginn (Office Administrator at Mayfield Baptist) partnered to make a live site happen at Mayfield Baptist Church. Marsha took care of logistics, food and the technical side of things, even organising a trial run beforehand to ensure things ran smoothly. This allowed Matt to focus on facilitating the meeting itself. “With the live sites, we get a much bigger buy-in to Association events and Assemblies, because a lot of people in the Hunter just won’t travel down to Sydney. We can say to people: ‘You don’t have to drive two and a half hours to go to this, just come to Mayfield!’” Matt says. “There’s also the benefit of us being together as the Hunter region. It’s great to meet and go, ‘Wow – we’re together in the Hunter doing this!’” Like Cecelia, Matt appreciated the format at the Special Assembly. “The live site gave people an opportunity to speak that probably wouldn’t have gotten to if we didn’t have it. Even though it’s on the screen, it certainly wasn’t just us doing our own thing – there was a sense that we’re all together in this, and that we’ve got a voice. They did a good job at getting around to the different sites and letting them speak, so no one missed out on feeling included.”
“Even though it’s on the screen, it certainly wasn’t just us doing our own thing – there was a sense that we’re all together in this, and that we’ve got a voice.”
* A ‘Regional Minister’ works with churches in a particular region in order to encourage us to work together towards our vision of 100 healthy Churches in that region.
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” // Hebrews 10:25