This autumn’s EF conference was a joint one with our sister organisation Affirming Baptists. I felt it was a very successful conference with the highest attendance we have had for some time. The theme “Why I am still an Evangelical” was particularly appealing. It had a frustrating start for some of us as half term traffic meant that the journey to the conference was more fraught than usual and some were late for dinner.
The Friday evening Icebreaker was led by Martin Stears-Handscomb, joint co-ordinator of Affirming Baptists. People in pairs introduced each other which was a great way of getting to know new people.
Once we got there and settled in these difficulties were soon forgotten about as the conference kicked off.
It was led by Rev. Roy Clements, a former Baptist minister and Avril Mackenzie-Parr, the joint co-ordinator of Affirming Baptists and a leading member of her local Baptist church. Both Roy and Avril led two sessions each. In both cases they dedicated their first session to their testimony of how they came to faith and grew within it. Their accounts were very distinct as Avril was brought up in a Christian home whereas Roy came to faith at University.
In his second address, Roy spoke powerfully of the nature of evangelicalism and described it as the middle ground between the extremes of liberal Christianity and fundamentalism. He described the essentials of the evangelical faith and spoke of examples of secondary issues where evangelicals have historically differed on such as baptism, divorce and political beliefs. He persuasively argued that homosexuality is one of these secondary issues and said of the evangelical leadership – it is they, not I, that have changed – by their insistence that opposition to homosexuality is a core belief.
In her second address, Avril contrasted her faith as a child to what she holds now. Her faith had clearly matured over the years and is concerned very much with the social implications of the gospel such as concern for the poor and homeless. She told us of the projects that her local church is involved in.
For myself as a former Baptist who is now an Anglican, this conference was very much a trip down memory lane. It reminded me much of the good aspects of Baptist church life which were lost for me in my rejection for being gay by my former church. This was certainly true in the Sunday morning worship, and particularly the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which was wonderfully led by Avril.