Peter Atkins, Pastor at Bute Baptist Church, reflects on the journey they have been on as a church during the transition from Ardbeg to Bute Baptist, and what that has meant for them as a community, an island and a congregation…
“Church is a strange thing. Like Adam she is the muck of the earth into which God has breathed God’s own Spirit. Like Mary she is immature, poor, ignorable and bulgingly pregnant with God. Like Jesus she is fully human and fully divine. She operates according to a pace and logic that is not entirely reasonable nor purely spiritual but, to those who have eyes to see, it is often beautiful.
Around the turn of the millennium, we moved from our meeting place in the traditional church building in Ardbeg that the congregation had occupied since it was purchased by our foundress Mary Shirreff in the 1840s. It was a difficult time in the life of the church as the move was not voluntary and some hoped it might be temporary if something could be done with the beloved old, condemned, building.
So, Ardbeg Baptist Church moved out of Ardbeg and into Rothesay. Out of a building hallowed by time and memory and into a former tax office cum brethren hall on the ground floor of a tenement block in the centre of Rothesay.
It is just over a mile from one building to the other, but a mile is a long way on Bute. Identities are rooted in a strong sense of place, whether you grow up on this or that side of the burn or woods decides who you are, and though the Royal Mail do not recognise it, Ardbeg is not Rothesay.
Congregations become attached to buildings, we may not have a conscious theology of sacred architecture, but how we inhabit buildings and utilise church furniture as an integral part of our spiritual practice. So, to beautify and bring something of the sacred old to this functional new space, a stained-glass window was gifted to the church and the Victorian communion table and its throne-like chair was installed.
But we were not ready to let go of our name.
Some hoped to return. Some valued the history. Some found the question of changing the name painful as it stirred up memories of that difficult time. And so, for 20 years Ardbeg Baptist Church met in Rothesay and yes, occasionally visitors were directed to the wrong place. Ultimately it was not a local question of identity or a missional impulse that prompted the change but a legal technicality.
We decided to become a SCIO which necessarily involved setting up a new charity with a unique name. Now, ‘it just made sense’ and the decision was painless and uncontroversial. We settled on ‘Bute Baptist Church’ and have since discerned a call from God to become a church ‘for the whole island’.
On the first weekend of August we celebrated the renaming with our first open-air in quite some time. At a bandstand in the heart of Rothesay, with support from island sister churches, a local ukulele band, our own singing group ‘Contact’ and courageous conversations and flyer sharing by the congregation, we let people know that we love Jesus and are here for them, that we are changing are our name and to become more like who we have always been, and that everyone was welcome back to ours for tea and cake.
Church is a strange thing, but as we, like Adam and Mary and Jesus journey together in God through the downs and ups of human life, the invisible Spirit does beautiful things in and through us, in her own time.”