The 137th Assembly of the Baptist Union of New Zealand and the 134th Assembly of the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society (NZBMS) were held 7th to 9th November at South West Baptist Church, Christchurch.

Pōwhiri

As the leaves rustled in the mighty totara and the sound of bird calls echoed across the grassy lawn, we were welcomed on to Rehua Marae to open Hui 2019. Kia Tupu Whakaritorito was our mandate and from the opening waiata we were positioning ourselves to thrive. 

Matt Hakiaha acknowledged to all those gathered how great it is to have brothers and sisters coming together in unity with open hearts to be welcomed to Ōtautahi. After a bus tour through Christchurch we returned to South West Baptist to be welcomed to their home and the site of our gathering.

Hui 2019 prayer and commissioning of leaders

Kia whai korōria te Atua i runga rawa
Kia mau te rongo ki runga ki te whenua
Me te whakaaro pai ki ngā tāngata

Glory to God on high
Peace on earth
Goodwill to all mankind

Alan Jamieson, senior pastor of South West Baptist, reflected on the tragedies that have befallen Christchurch over the last decade and how that has affected their own church in a very real way. We were then led in prayers for peace, to acknowledge our dependence on God and to ask him for forgiveness in the areas where we are tempted. We prayed together as a movement for strong leadership, resources, people and our mission. Then, with a sense of solidarity, we stood and affirmed Charles Hewlett as the national leader of Baptist Churches of New Zealand and Alan Jamieson as the general director of NZBMS. 

Baptist celebration

South West Baptist had promised us a party and what a party it was! The food trucks were pumping out a delicious array of food, while the jazz band had many toes tapping and the occasional punter dancing. The weather was glorious and the general hum of happy people, combined with building anticipation for what was to come, created an atmosphere that could be compared to a New Orleans Mardi Gras. Hui 2019 was under way and the days ahead promised to bring fresh revelation. A sense of newness was already in the air.

Karen Warner and Brian Krum continued to build that with their easy banter and seamless leading of our Baptist celebration as we welcomed Albany Korean, God’s Family, Grace Baptist and church@onetwosix into fellowship and celebrated with the new Golden Sands Baptist Church. The long service of Murray and Marj Robertson, Alan and Sandra Jamieson, and Brian and Gay Cochran was acknowledged. 

Some of our leaders were surprised with special messages of love and thanks from their congregation. Beulah Wood stepped down from her year as president and shared how she had been encouraged by the new emerging female leaders amongst us. David Allen, who was welcomed as our new president, is particularly focused on leadership and working in the governance space for churches. 

It was a pleasure to hear from Peter Olds as he takes up his position as principal defence chaplain for the New Zealand Defence Force. Military chaplains are embedded into camps and bases in a pastoral well-being role and often provide a sense of moral validation in the services. Our defence men and women live with the question of mortality every day, which creates a deep spiritual space for these chaplains to speak into. 

NZBMS welcomed home Neil and Barb Perry, and Ilkka and Maree Rauhala, who were recommissioned back to New Zealand. A minute of appreciation was also given to Rachel Murray as we acknowledged the work of this strong and capable woman who served as general director of NZBMS from 2014 to 2019. 

Our celebration would not have been complete without the awarding of the Lionel Stewart scholarship for 2020. Congratulations to John Catmur from Māngere Baptist who will use some of his scholarship to study the pūtōrino (Māori flute) and make it available for worship. 

It was encouraging to hear Luke Kaa-Morgan share with us all the happenings at Ihumātao and the sphere of influence that Baptist pastors and leaders are carrying in that place. There is a stirring, particularly amongst millennials, to see social justice become a platform for the gospel message. 

One of the highlights of our Baptist celebration was looking to the future, where we celebrated Carey Baptist College graduates and newly registered pastors. They are an energetic and exciting bunch of people who are diverse in their backgrounds and experience, yet united in their passion for the gospel of Jesus. 

Minutes of appreciation for Rob Stacey and Andrew Bollen, outgoing chairs of the Baptist Union Assembly Council and NZBMS Mission Council respectively, were noted at Hui 2019. Rob served six years on the Union Council and was chair for the last two years. Andrew served 22 years on Mission Council, the last three as chair. Both men’s contribution, diligence and leadership at critical times for our movement were gratefully acknowledged.

Women’s breakfast and worship

Friday morning dawned with a promise of another beautiful day. Ninety women gathered in the South West Baptist café to share together over breakfast the challenges and opportunities presented to women in leadership. What an inspiring group of women serve us on the Baptist Women’s Board! They were quick to encourage us with a message of place and identity as women in God’s Kingdom. Fia Turner from Māngere Baptist reminded us that as women we bring with us everything God has put in us—our language, culture, values, beliefs and hopes. We need to walk proudly in that and understand that, with eyes on Jesus, falling is not an option.

As the coffee supplied by Addington Coffee Co-op started to hit the spot and the South West Baptist worship team led us into God’s presence, Charles Hewlett began to reveal what he sees as a framework for thriving faith communities. This included robust leadership, growing disciples, effective mission and healthy resources. One of the changes to this year’s Hui was the importance of table conversation and the ability to freely discuss the issues and ideas being presented from the stage. This form of open communication led us to a better understanding of what it is ‘to hui’ and produced the first addition to Charles’s framework—authentic worship. 

The world we are about to live in

Positioning ourselves to thrive means we need to understand the world we are about to live in. Charles had lined up a sterling panel at Hui 2019 to help us unpack this. Our world is changing. The baby boomer generation has a different, diverse and dissatisfied population coming up behind them. It is ethnically mixed, with Pākehā having less children but other ethnic groups having more. Our disadvantaged people groups are growing, our faith culture population is shifting to a non-Christian majority, and there is a growing dissatisfaction with what has previously been produced. There is an assumption that consumerism and industrialisation rules the world, yet the next generation to whom we are presenting the gospel see social issues over consumerism. They want a demonstration that we are all equal under God. What does flourishing and thriving look like to those who are in a wilderness?

From the panel, Charles asked Sarah Rice from Papanui Baptist Church to reflect on the example of Greta Thunberg. The emerging generation has a love for the world it is about to live in. They may be less able to articulate what they want but they are able to see what they don’t want. They are challenging the system that exists.

Colin Gruetzmacher is an American who grew up in Mexico, worked in England and came to New Zealand six years ago. Charles asked him to reflect on what Israel Folau’s stand is telling us about the world in which we are about to live. While we could focus on hate speech and how we share a message, maybe it is more about how we navigate sexuality in the 21st century. The world we are about to live in is telling our young people that to deny yourself is now oppression. How do we present a gospel that encourages us to deny ourselves without shame?

The story of Ihumātao is a narrative that preferences one people group. Jennie Ekigbo is a passionate global citizen from Hillsborough Baptist Church who spoke strongly into Charles’s question over race reconciliation. How do we come together as one with a loving Father?

Dr Fiona Beals is a sociologist interested in addressing systemic injustice through enabling others to read and rewrite their story and the greater Kingdom story. Charles’s question to her was about suicide and our appalling statistics. We tell our young people a shameful lie—“do whatever you choose, be whatever you want”—but the reality is that this New Zealand dream is only achievable for a small group. How do we as churches give this emerging world an upside‑down Kingdom where hope is a tangible and real experience?

So for this world we are about to live in, hope is the key but we need to reframe what hope looks like. For too long we have been in the practice of attracting people to our buildings and programmes rather than presenting the work of the Holy Spirit to people already in our spaces. When the local church is present in the neighbourhood, the stories of Scripture that tell us about social justice or racial reconciliation present to the world a good news that addresses pain and leads people to hope. This world that we are about to live in implores us to develop empathy for different people, to learn to be part of a minority and be present in spaces where we are uncomfortable. Be excited about the future of the church; we have always thrived when God takes us into the desert. 

Baptists in the ’hood

Wow! If Hui 2019 had to close down at this moment I would have had enough to reflect on until next Hui. But there was still plenty more to feed on at this banquet. Over the course of the next two days we heard from people who were intentionally being Baptist in the neighbourhood they have been called to. And we learnt the stories around South West Baptist and the neighbourhoods they call home. It wasn’t about the words they said but the commitment they made to their neighbourhood. 

Duane Major and Alan Jamieson have been leaders in this space for a while now and they shared with us some thoughts around presence-based or preference-based faith communities. We need different ways of doing church. Why? We need connections. “Loneliness hangs over our culture today like a thick smog. More people say they feel lonely than ever before,” says Johann Hari in Lost Connections. A presence‑based community expression of faith means everyday people engaging in everyday ways to emotionally connect and become resilient, and creating a place to rebuild thriving, woven communities. 

Positioning our identity

With all this insight into what the future might look like when establishing thriving faith communities, we needed to sit and digest what it means to be Baptist and what our movement’s response is for thriving. 

John Tucker and Andrew Picard of Carey Baptist College presented a positioning paper on Baptist identity. This is available from the Baptist National Centre for churches to discuss leading into Hui next year. Charles gave time for us to kōrero around where our movement is right now. How are our regional associations positioned to thrive? Many of them are fragile and struggling. For change and strength to come we need to build a team that can resource faith communities across Aotearoa. Of course this takes some financial capability and Winston Hema and Kelvyn Fairhall presented our financial reports for discussion and comment. Yes we will need to be generous givers, but if we believe in the place of the Union and the work of NZBMS, we need to be creative in how we find this giving. 

The Sutherland Lecture 

Tim Cooper, a lecturer at Otago University and member of Dunedin City Baptist, presented the Sutherland Lecture this year. He unpacked his research on Richard Baxter, a 17th century English Puritan whose writings challenge us to consider what the reformed pastor for the 21st century may need to look like. Tim left us with two questions: how are we going to keep watch over ourselves and how are we going to keep watch over all the flock? In a thriving faith community we need to be able to answer these questions.

Positioning our leadership for mission

As a movement we are so thankful for Carey Baptist College. They produce outstanding pastors and leaders and support lifelong learning. George Wieland is director of Mission Research and Training at Carey and one of the college’s lecturers. Giving him the last slot before the Hui 2019 closing was a stroke of genius. His witty unpacking of Acts 13 encouraged us to position leaders for mission. We each have a place in creating thriving faith communities because God is moving and he has invited us to be a part of his plan.

With so much to consider and reflect on, the warmth and hospitality shown by the volunteers at South West kept us going. We can’t thank them enough for keeping us fed, supplying us with coffee and generally keeping the house open and inviting for us. Yes, the fire alarm caused some lighthearted banter but we pressed on! 

Hui 2019 may just be a marker for our movement as we push forward. There was so much to take away from this year. We acknowledge that some in our movement are tired and barely keeping their heads above water, but we are stronger when we come together. 

What do you need in order to thrive? Who’s in your corner championing you on and where do you need to turn in order to be refreshed and resourced? 

Hui 2019 may be over but the pūtātara has been passed to Waikato Association for 2020 planning. Will you be there?

Story: Fiona Maisey
Photos: Beccy Haylock and Claire Russell