Entering New Territory is the title I have given to my report on the experience of retired Baptist ministers who are now worshipping in Anglican churches. Key findings include the following:
The move to worshipping in an Anglican church was for most, if not all, motivated by two key theological factors: negatively, a deep dissatisfaction with present Baptist church life; positively, a great attraction to the breadth and depth of the Anglican church’s worship. It is important to emphasise that none of the respondents began to worship in an Anglican church because they had changed their theological convictions concerning the Baptist way of being church: rather many felt that it was the Baptist churches themselves which had changed. It is significant that most of the respondents still regard themselves as Baptist ministers.
Almost all the retired ministers in this survey are ‘accidental’ worshippers in Anglican churches. For most the decision to attend an Anglican church was taken after retirement. Although making the decision to leave the Baptist ‘family’ proved understandably tough for a few, to my surprise for almost two-thirds of ministers in this survey the decision proved relatively easy.
Three quarters of ministers in this survey said they were either “very happy” or “happy” that they decided to worship in an Anglican church; and the same proportion felt they “belong” or indeed they belong “very much” to their new church. This contrasts with my earlier research of how Baptist ministers experience retirement, where the sense of happiness and of belonging was significantly lower.
The warm welcome the respondents received was a major factor in feeling at home. A number highlighted the kindness and friendship they had experienced from other members of the congregation. In almost all cases the vicar/rector played a key role in the welcome, seeing the retired minister not as a threat, but as a resource; and happily offering opportunities for service in the life of the church. Again, this contrasts with my earlier research of how Baptist ministers experience retirement, where significantly fewer respondents regarded the minister as their friend.
I was surprised to discover the extent to which so many, after a life-time in Baptist ministry, had adjusted to doing church in a new and different way. Although there are major theological differences between Anglican and Baptist ways of being church, relating not least to infant baptism, congregational church government, and priestly concepts of ministry, in one way or another all of the respondents were able to resolve theological challenges involved – even if in some cases it meant just putting the differences to one side.
Around half of the ministers in this survey now find themselves in Anglican churches which are not Evangelical. However, this experience has offered opportunities for growth and development. As one minister wrote: “I find it an enriching and stretching experience to listen to clergy seeking to expound Scripture with different perspectives from my own”.
Almost without exception they have developed an appreciation for the Anglican liturgy. Many have come to love the weekly opportunity to ‘feed’ on Christ within the context of the Eucharist, even although initially they may have found it strange to have so little time to meditate at the ‘altar’ as they receive the bread and wine.
The overwhelming impression from the survey is that worshipping in an Anglican church has opened up ‘new vistas’ for retired Baptist ministers. To their surprise and delight most of them have discovered that they have enjoyed ‘entering into new territory’ at this stage of life. In the words of David Adam’s poem from which the title was taken:
The Terminus is not where we stay,
It is the beginning of a new journey.
It is where we reach out beyond,
where we experience new adventures.
It is where we get off to enter new territory,
to explore new horizons, to extend our whole being.
It is a place touching the future.
It opens up new vistas.
It is the gateway to eternity.
Published by the College of Baptist Ministers, Entering New Territory is available from me as a softback (pp) at a cost of £7 (including postage and packing). For friends overseas I am happy to send an electronic version. So let me know if you would like a copy!