Baptists having fun on the forecourt of George White School
Last week Norwich's Baptists celebrated 344 years of their presence in the city. Strictly speaking their history goes further back than 344 years: 2013 - 344 = 1669, where 1669 is simply the date that England's state church registered the outlawed Baptists as a subversive congregation in Norwich. These Baptists had been around for some years prior to 1669 and had in fact emerged out of Congregationalists who practised child baptism.
Norwich's contemporary Baptists finished their celebration week with a "Fun Day" at a local school - see the photo above. This school, as an outcome of purely fortuitous circumstances, was none other than the George White Juniors. George White was another of NCBC's (and Norwich's) illustrious patriarchs; a philanthropic businessman and liberal MP. You can read about him here:
Very appropriate then that NCBC and its fellow Baptist churches should finish their celebration week here! Given the venue of the "Fun day" the lesson that cried out to be noticed last Saturday is how things have changed! In 1669 the Baptists were a marginal and persecuted group. By George White's time they walked the corridors of power and influence. However, One Hundred and One years since the death of White in 1912 we find that once again the Baptists are a fairly marginal group. But this time they are just one marginal group amongst many other marginal groups in an eclectic society, a society that now has to live with diversity rather than respond to it with fear and persecution - unless it wants to tear itself apart.
My guess is that in the confident heady days of George White there would have be less need to have a week of the sometimes spirited rallying of the Baptist troops that we saw in last week's 344 celebrations. Marginalisation can, if we are not careful, create pressures that encourage tribalisation. But as we learn from the book of Jonah the most unlikely tribes can turn to God, even if they don't turn to us and we may have little to do with it!
Like a Godfather George White presided silently over the last hours of Norwich's Baptists 344 celebrations and no-one remarked on the irony!