Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I have been privileged to have been 'in fellowship' with the Baptists in Victoria for 35 years, since migrating here from N.S.W. 

The ethos of the Baptist Union north of the Murray River is quite a contrast to that south of the river. In the 1970s a couple of NSW Baptist Union leaders visited some of us in Victoria, after hearing that 31 (if I recall) NSW-trained pastors were serving in various ministries in Victoria, but only two graduates of Whitley College were in ministry in NSW. Why and why? My response: there is a greater openness to and acceptance of diversity in Victoria. The majority of the half-dozen largest Baptist churches in Australia were in Victoria, and there was a warmer acceptance of innovation here. On the other hand, pastors in NSW got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the NSW 'Union' was a bunch of people in George St - and they existed to support the 'Union', whereas in Victoria it was the other way around. Here we don't have the constant and passionate appeals for money which I received regularly in NSW. 

Another dimension to all this is that 'Whitley College' has the smell of liberalism to the more conservative NSW folks. The flip-side to that is that I counted, I think, 13 Victorian Baptist clergy in the 1970s who had doctorates - more than all the other states combined. 

By the way, what happened to the report by those NSW 'heavies'? Nobody knows, and a few enquiries to people around at that time resulted in puzzlement: they'd heard nothing. Fairly typical.

I'm not an institutional person, so haven't been omnipresent at Baptist Union meetings. I've spoken at various Union and pastors' conferences in Victoria. I got involved with the Athol Gill debacle (see also here). I was a member of the Advisory Board (which tries to 'marry' pastors and churches) for some years in the 1970s, the committee to organize Baptist pastors' retreats, and a Uniting Church/Baptist discussion group (which, in terms of progress towards greater cooperation, came to almost nothing after several years of somewhat fruitless discussions). 

One or two contributions to Baptist Assemblies and commissions have been interesting - especially the debates about Open Membership and homosexuality. Re the latter, see here, and here and here. I was reminded of this today from a post to the Victorian Baptist Ministers' Network Yahoo group:

'Indeed, as Rowland said some years ago when the BUV was debating its responses to homosexual people, too many of our churches haven't even learned to be accepting and supportive of celibate straight people, so we're kidding ourselves if we think we are able to back up a call to gays to be celibate with anything like the affirmation and support that would make that look like a realistic possibility. Peace and hope, Nathan Nettleton.' (Reproduced with Nathan's permission). 

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