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An Advent message from Lynn Green
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Dear Angie

Immanuel, God with us
As Advent unfolds we are drawn back to the foundations of our faith, that God loved the world so much that he gave his son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  This is such good news and we want to see every church blazing as a Beacon of Hope in their communities as they embody, proclaim and share Jesus this Advent and Christmas. I wanted to be in touch and remind you that I and many others are praying for you at this time.  Praying that as you turn to the Lord afresh, you would be reconnected with your "first love". Praying that your ministry and witness would be full and overflowing with the Holy Spirit.  Praying that the church would have many opportunities to continue to sow seeds of Kingdom transformation in your community.  Be encouraged, Immanuel, God is with us!

A time for looking back
As the end of the year approaches, we are often prompted to look back over the past year and we shared our reflections at Baptist Steering Group last week.  As we look back on 2016, we have indeed witnessed some significant shifts in our global, political and economic landscape. Across our world we witness war, political upheaval, economic instability and unprecedented migration.  No one could have predicted where we find ourselves today. As Haggai prophesied, “This is what the Lord says, ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth…’”  At times like this, our faith reminds us that God is with us, but that does not make us immune to what is going on.  As the nations are shaken, so the church gets shaken too, and whilst our issues are as nothing compared to the suffering we see in other parts of the world, the year ahead is going to present Baptists Together with our own challenges. As we look to 2017 I wanted to take this opportunity to make you aware of what one of those will be.  What follows is not brief, but I believe to be important, so please persevere to the end!
 
Looking ahead to 2017
As you know only too well, our local churches, and indeed all parts of Baptist Together, are affected by the prolonged economic downturn which we have been experiencing in the UK since 2008.  Investment returns are low, wages are stagnant and this is reflected in the income we have as Baptists Together.  The most significant financial challenge for us, however, is the Defined Benefit Pension Scheme deficit.  Along with everyone else in the U.K. we are caught up in extremely challenging times when it comes to pensions. Until recently, while we were painfully aware of how financially challenging the deficit was to our churches, it seemed possible for Baptists Together to keep focusing primarily on our worship and mission whilst treating the overall pension deficit like a mortgage which, over  time,  would be paid off and done with.  However, the continuing pressure on pension deficits driven by the prolonged period of ultra-low interest rates has meant that, despite the sacrificial support of so many of our churches, the pension deficit has continued to increase, from about £84m in 2013 to around £124m today. Thankfully, changes to the investment strategy during this period have protected the Scheme, which would otherwise have had an even higher deficit.   

In response to this worsening situation it is clear that our current plan will no longer adequately deal with this issue and so we need to change our approach.  We recognise the vision of our forebears, who created pension provision for ministers so that they would be honoured and adequately provided for in retirement.  And challenging as the situation is, we certainly do not want to align ourselves with other organisations who are seeking to default on their legal responsibilities!  So after much prayer, reflection and listening to the wisdom and expertise of our Pensions Employers Group, BUGB Trustees and All Team Leaders we believe we cannot leave this issue to be a burden to another generation and let it threaten our worship and mission. Rather, we perceive that now is the time to do all that we can to deal with this Defined Benefit Pension deficit in the next 10 years and 2017 will be the start of that.
 
How can we respond?
  • The first and most important thing for all of us to do is to keep our focus on Jesus in worship and mission! Above all we need to make sure that "the main thing", remains "the main thing"!  In faith, we must not let financial issues deflect us from God’s call.
  • Pray! As the nations are shaken we need to be continuing to pray for our world and the coming of God’s Kingdom.  As we seek to address our pension’s deficit in particular, we need to pray and remember that we worship an abundant and generous God and we can trust that as we turn to Him we will have the resources we need to fulfil the call He has given us.
  • If you are an employer in the Defined Benefit Scheme (and 1,300 churches are) you will be receiving a letter from the Pension Trustee giving more detail about the possible impact of the deficit on the scheme employers in 2017.  You need to read this carefully and, as you get a clearer picture of your own responsibilities, think about how much you can deal with yourselves and where you might need the help and support of the wider Baptist family.
  • If you are not a Defined Benefit Pension Scheme employer (and nearly 700 churches are not!) then please can I invite you to be praying alongside those among your sister churches who have responsibility for the deficit.  As 2017 unfolds there may be ways in which you can help and we will be in touch again to let you know more about this.  As it says in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15,
    "This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. As it is written,‘Nothing left over to the one with the most,
    Nothing lacking to the one with the least.’”
    (The Message)
"Nothing is impossible with God."
Sisters and Brothers, whether we are thinking globally or for Baptists Together, humanly speaking these things are beyond us.  When it comes to pensions no one part of our Union has anywhere near the money we need to deal with this deficit, but with God and as Baptists Together this is not beyond us.  It is going to be a huge challenge, but I believe that the Lord is giving us a huge opportunity, too!  We are definitely at the end of ourselves on this one, but we know that this is precisely where we meet God.  I have been through the shock, the denial, the anger and even the acceptance, and now I am actually feeling a sense of anticipation about what God is doing amongst us and wanting to see what He is going to do in and through us as we depend on Him.  With time and prayer, I hope that you make that journey as well.
 



Beacons of Hope

In 2015 I offered a call to prayer, Beacons of Prayer, and I have been amazed and encouraged to see how God has been moving churches to pray, seeking God and making space for Him to do what He wants to do.  Now 18 months later, we are seeing God at work amongst us and across the U.K. in incredible ways and Beacons of Prayer is developing into a call for our churches to be Beacons of Hope, sharing the good news of Jesus in the places He has put us! If I am honest, I cannot tell you what lies ahead!  I believe that we are heading into uncharted territory, a place that we cannot even imagine right now!  But the most important thing is to be with the Lord and where He wants us to be, that is our security for the journey ahead.
 
In Advent we celebrate God's coming to us.  He enters our world, frail and broken as it is and brings hope, light and love.  As we welcome Him afresh, will you follow Jesus with me, hard on His heels, and will you be willing to go where ever He takes us?  Will your church be a Beacon of Hope in the place where God has put you?  I am praying that as we are on fire for Jesus, He will be seen ever more clearly in us and through us.
 
Thank you for taking the time to read all this! 
May you receive and share the peace and blessing of Jesus this Advent
and Christmas and may we all trust Jesus for the year ahead in whatever it holds.
 
With my prayers,



Lynn Green
General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Copyright © 2016 Baptist Union of Great Britain, All rights reserved.


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