Friday 12th & Saturday 13th March 2010
Malcolm Watts, Vernon Higham, Roland Burrows
Malcolm Watts: Pastor at Emmanuel Church, Salisbury
Vernon Higham: Pastor Emeritus at Tabernacle Cardiff, Cardiff
Roland Burrows: Pastor at Ebenezer Chapel at Cradley Heath
The first Birmingham Conference was held on 12-13 March, hosted by Ebenezer Baptist Church, Cradley Heath (not, strictly speaking, Birmingham). The conference, mainly for ministers and their wives, was organised to support the stated aims of the new Christian Worship hymnbook – to uphold traditional standards of reverent worship. The underlying emphasis of the conference, therefore, was to re-assert the majesty of God, the glory of His grace in Christ, and the humble seriousness which should characterise our approach to Him.
Pastor Malcolm Watts of Salisbury gave two addresses on the office and work of the minister. He strongly advocated the distinctiveness of the ministry – that its functions should normally be restricted to those personally called of the Lord, recognised by the church and formally ordained to the work. He urged ministers to renounce frivolity in the pulpit, so that worship should be recognised as a serious matter, not a form of entertainment.
Roland Burrows, Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, gave two rousing papers on the colourful ministry of the early Methodist “helpers” – sometimes called “Wesley’s veterans”. Not all shared Wesley’s Arminianism, and even those who did were far removed from the decisionism that manifested at a later time.
Friday evening was a public rally with many members from Ebenezer and other local churches in attendance. Pastor Vernon Higham preached from Jeremiah 14, drawing a parallel between Jeremiah’s day and our own – a spiritual dearth. He then analysed the reason for it – wilful wandering from God’s ways. As a result the Lord commanded Jeremiah, “Pray not for this people for their good.” This, however, prompted him to plead boldly the inviolable nature of God’s promise : “Do not abhor us, for Thy name’s sake, do not disgrace the throne of Thy glory: remember, break not Thy covenant with us.”
An afternoon discussion session focused on the minister’s devotional life, while Mrs Morwen Higham spoke at a separate ladies’ meeting. Malcolm Watts, Vernon Higham and Roland Burrows spoke helpfully and warmly of their own experiences with the Lord.
The conference is a new venture. Located in the heart of England, it is easily accessible from all directions through good transport links. A good start was made with around 30 ministers attending, along with a good representation of church officers and those training for the ministry, and it is hoped that the scope and influence of the conference will increase in coming years.