More than 300 Baptists from more than 50 countries trekked to Vancouver for the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA).
During the week-long event, Baptist leaders will join together for worship, ministry planning and dialogue on critical issues facing Baptists around the world.
Everton Jackson, executive secretary/treasurer of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship (one of the BWA’s six regional fellowships), said that despite “cultural diversity,” Baptists come together in the BWA as a “witness to God’s kingdom in the world.”
“My expectation is that as Baptists from all the continents … we will come together, united in one common purpose,” he told EthicsDaily.com. “While there will be conflicting views on various issues, [I expect] that there would be respect, guided by spirituality, so that together we’ll all hear what God is saying.”
Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation (another of the BWA regional fellowships), also expressed his hopes for Baptists working together on various important issues.
“I’m really hoping that this can be a place where we can learn from each other,” he told EthicsDaily.com, particularly noting his excitement to serve on the Commission on Religious Liberty.
One issue he expects to arise this week is considerations of refugees in Europe and elsewhere. Multiple panel discussions will consider the topic and it remains likely BWA leaders will consider a resolution on refugees.
“I’m hoping we’ll be able to say something collectively about the refugees issue, which is, of course, a big issue for us in the EBF,” Peck explained.
The morning worship on Tuesday highlighted refugees, with individuals from several countries leading part of the liturgy as will be the case each morning of the annual gathering.
Tuesday’s service used songs, Scripture readings, videos testimonies and prayer to bring attention to the importance of refugee ministry.
Jeremy Bell, executive minister of Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, helped lead Tuesday’s service. The liturgy from various sources included prayers for refugees.
“God beyond our borders, we bless you for strange places and different dreams,” he prayed. “We bless you for the friendship of strangers, the richness of other cultures and the painful gift of freedom.”
“But if we have overlooked the exiles in our midst, heightened their exclusion by our indifference, given our permission for a climate of fear, and tolerated a culture of violence, have mercy upon us,” he continued.
Other topics set for the agenda during the week include creation care, international violence, interfaith relations, religious liberty, worship and evangelism.
There are also conversations about disagreements on how to best organize for relief and development work.
Other challenges the BWA faces include tight budgets in the aftermath of the global recession and recent staff departures.
The annual gathering report book noted two consecutive years of deficit spending. Expenses were $153,019.16 over receipts in 2014 and $162,166.73 over income in 2015.
Four major staff members are leaving this year: Rothangliani Chhangte (BWA director for three years), Patsy Davis (BWA Women’s Department director for 17 years), Emmett Dunn (BWA Youth Department director for 22 years) and Fausto Vasconcelos (BWA director of a couple of different programs over 10 years). Another top staffer, Raimundo Barreto, left in 2014.
Like Jackson, Peck remains hopeful global Baptists can work together even when disagreeing on issues.
He emphasizes the importance of the BWA as a witness of international cooperation, especially in light of movements in various countries to withdraw from international partnerships.
One recent example of opposing international engagement is the “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom.
Peck, who grew up in the U.K., previously urged British Baptists to vote to remain in the European Union, a position that narrowly lost last month.
“I do think now that the U.K. is divided between those who are internationalists in experience and spirit and those who are not,” he said in Vancouver. “I think the BWA does remind us that as Baptists we should be internationalists.”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.