Thursday, September 29, 2022

Oral history 4) A weird crunch point

Extraordinarily, this led to the most significant period of formation that forever changed my life.   While I was urgently seeking graduate employment, the Baptist Union of Great Britain was urgently looking to appoint someone to succeed Ray Vincent as a full-time Secretary of Student Work (and Chaplaincy).  My only qualifications were some positive experiences with RHS and BSF!  As a twenty-one-year-old I seemed massively underqualified. Tentatively, I went up to Baptist House, 4, Southampton Row, Holborn, London for interview.  Ernest Payne was in his last year as General Secretary. The job was explained - I would be expected to visit and encourage thirty plus Baptist student groups around the nation and undertake all correspondence relating to student work (including the Commendation Scheme involving two months of sorting and passing on several hundred student names from churches to relevant chaplains.  And, significantly, to represent Baptist student work to my ecumenical counterparts. 

The role was bewildering with its responsibilities and demands. I did pray about it though my father was rather discouraging.  Never a great fan of BUGB I think he felt it was a retrograde step after my education!  Living in London with a risky ambitious project, funded on a shoestring, must have seemed a poor prospect after my EACCA hopes.  Nevertheless, as I sensed God was calling me to do this, relatives in the East End kindly provided free accommodation and board.  At the 1967 Annual Assembly, in Westminster Chapel, I was welcomed into the new position by Earnest Payne before the whole congregation.  Unfortunately, a serious nosebleed on the journey from Cambridge meant a fixed expression when the full church with crowded galleries applauded me. It all seemed unreal as I returned to take my Finals.  Having never been to any BUGB function I have to say I was greatly impressed.

Many descriptions survive of Baptist Church House in Holborn, but my experience of climbing the steps under John Bunyan’s stature, pushing open the large oak doors, passing Spurgeon’s statue in the black and white tiled entrance, opened a new world. I could hardly believe that I was working there! Ascending the stairs, past different departments, the Shakespeare Room (where we held worship) and the stunning Council Chamber, I reached my own office.  Room 32 which, though I shared it with the Stewardship Dept. overseen by Ungoed Davies and Jim Findlay, was rarely used by them.  A desk, old typewriter, paper, carbon paper were waiting for me. Fortunately, I had taught myself touch typing in my early teens, so I could cope with being my own secretary.  Instantly, I was catapulted into a crash induction course about what it meant to belong to the national Baptist family. Beginning the same day as the new General Secretary, David Russell I know he was definitely better prepared than me!  So much was to happen. 

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