The Order for Baptist Ministry emerged out of the friendship of four Baptist ministers who had met together regularly for over fifteen years (Colin Norris, Geoff Colmer, Paul Goodliff, and more recently Martin Taylor). In parallel, John Colwell had written a paper concerning a Baptist Order of Preachers, and so in 2009, together, they began to explore the possibility of some kind of Order which was distinctively Baptist.
The essentials were understood as a commitment to prayer, with a structured rhythm of daily office, sustained by spiritual direction and regular retreat; a commitment to gather in accountable relationships, and a commitment to ministry.
Later in 2009, the four met with John Colwell to explore further. The outcome was a decision for each to invite another person who would be interested to join the conversation. On 11-12 March 2010, eleven gathered at Ivy House Retreat Centre, in Warminster: Colin, Geoff, Paul, Martin, and John, together with Sally Bedborough, Mary Cotes, Brian Howden, David Hughes, and Gerry Stanton. Ruth Bottoms was invited to facilitate the group, as another interested person. Over twenty-four hours, the group shared together and sought to discern what God might be saying. Out of this emerged a strong conviction that has taken expression in a statement called ‘The Dream’. On two subsequent occasions, this was refined and the group began to think more deeply about how it might be expressed. Also, a decision was reached to hold a wider conversation at the beginning of 2011, followed by a three-day Convocation in the Autumn of 2011.
The larger Consultation took place on 24 January 2011 in Milton Keynes and was attended by 52 people, with a sizeable number of people expressing an interest but unable to attend. Within a rhythm of prayer, there was an opportunity to hear the story so far, to share in small groups, and in plenary.
Later in that year, in October 2011, twenty-five people came together for the first Convocation at All Saints Conference Centre, Hertfordshire, to explore further. Again, this had at its heart a rhythm of prayer – morning, mid-day, evening and night – drawing upon a variety of liturgies, mostly those written specifically by the group for personal and cell group use. There was the opportunity to share ‘The Dream’, to hear from a number of ‘Holy Dreamers’, and to hold some discussion about the various aspects of the Order. Of special significance were the conversations with Brother John Hennings, once a Baptist minister, now a Franciscan friar, who was invited as a guest. Brother John was of enormous help, listening and offering some wisdom for the way forward.
In January 2012, a small group made their vows with a real sense that this was God’s time to make this commitment. This felt not so much like an arrival as a beginning, with much still to process on the continuing journey, however, a start really had been made. There are now over 30 who have similarly committed themselves to the Order as a way of deepening their faithfulness to baptismal and ordination vows.
Since then, Convocations have been held annually at Minster Acres Retreat Centre, near Consett, County Durham in 2012, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham in 2013 and 2014, and St Columba’s in Woking in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and at Brunel Manor, Torquay, in 2017.
From 2014 –17 we held an annual Community Day which has provided an introduction to the Order, telling its story, sharing its Dream, exploring its practices, and giving a taster of its life. We may well hold these again in the future.
At present there are a dozen cells meeting with interest expressed by a number of individuals who are unable to join one because of geographical limitations. The life of the cell is sustained by the Daily Office which is now established together with a process of cell reflection. Cells are currently operating in, for instance, London, the North West, the East Midlands, three in the South West, the Oxford area and Buckinghamshire, both south and in also in Milton Keynes. The suite of Daily Offices can be found on the Daily Office page and, as well as having a long-standing Office for every day of the week, is well on the way to having an alternative Office for every day, a growing number of variants on the Mid-day Office, reflecting the liturgical year as does the Daily Office; some Night Offices and Communion Services. Daily Offices for some Festivals, such as All Saints and the Feast of the Annunciation are also to be found there, with others in the planning. These Offices can be found readily available in three formats: pdf files, Word files and versions adapted for smart phone or tablet.
The Order has a Core Group who offer it leadership and administrative support. It plans the Convocation, administers the finances and gives a steer to the life of the Order, meeting four times a year to do so. Its members are affirmed annually at Convocation, and currently it is led by Geoff Colmer. In 2017 we asked Revd Dr. Chris Ellis, former President of Bristol Baptist College, and now retired, to act as our Visitor, and the Core Group benefited from his wise counsel and accompaniment in 2017 and 2018, when he stepped down from that role.
The Order for Baptist Ministry continues to reflect on where we find ourselves, how this is expressed and how we continue to evolve, graced with a sense of excitement at what God seems to be doing among us. A recent development of some younger members of the Order has been to establish a Facebook page, and this has led to some interest in our way of being Baptist ministers.