Baptist Times

January 16-19, 2017

A Personal Story

After close links over 30 years with European Baptists and the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, followed by a further ten on the move to Prague, initially to organise the EBF archives, with occasional lecturing to  the point where I became a Senior Research Fellow, all of which came to a natural end with the move to Amsterdam, I inevitably found myself wondering many times how things were progressing. Should I try to find out, should I keep my distance? With gentle encouragement in a couple of Christmas Card exchanges with staff I decided to pay a visit and by mid-January found myself sitting in the January Colloquium when doctoral students come together to meet their supervisors. 

The differences from Prague were unmissable. No building, no residential students, no visitor accommodation; just two rented floors in a four-storey block prior to moving shortly into their permanent home in a developing Baptist church a few hundred yards down the road. Over three days some 20 doctoral students had come together together, with the Rector, Stuart Blythe, and their supervisors, four with their proposals for research and the rest with presentations on their progress. Over three days each had a one to one session with their supervisors and had to present their work to their peers and other supervisors. Validation of their work comes from the free University in Amsterdam and (in the case an MA required to access the course) Manchester University.

Since the ethos of Prague was Applied Theology (and this has been maintained) topics varied but were always well-earthed. In Norway, for example, where the Lutheran Church is no longer a State Church but a Folk Church, one student was proposing to examine the impact of this (and other changes such as secularism, globalisation and the growth of evangelical and pentecostal churches) in relation to baptism and raising issues which were hot potatoes in Britain in the early days of the ecumenical movement. A Ghanaian student researching issues of church government in Ghana opened up wide discussion as to what we mean when we use the word 'democratic' in Baptist circles, and a third was well into a study of the Work of the Holy Spirit in the Community in the light of the Roman Catholic theologian, Yves Congar.

As if that were not enough we had two J D Hughey Lectures from Ian Randall on the Anabaptists and the Bruderhof, two Research Seminars, one led by Anthony Cross on 'Historical Research and the Nature of the Knowledge it Produces' and the other by a Professor from the Canadian Mennonite University on 'Ecclesiology and Ethnography: a Baptist Project', and a Library Session on 'Research Data and Data Management'.

I came home well satisfied that I had made the right decision. One half of me regretted that I had limited myself to only half the event. The other half told me politely that I was privileged to have that. What I had no doubt about was that the best of Rüshlikon and Prague were being retained and re-modelled in an entirely new environment for a new world.     

For publication with an Introduction by Anthony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation see the EBF website ( or the Baptist Times (

© Alec Gilmore 2017