Baptist and Methodist dialogue begins
Faith working through love is theme of the first international dialogue between Baptists and Methodists.
The opening session of the five year-long dialogue has just taken place, when representatives of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the World Methodist Council (WMC) met (30 January - 5 February) at the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States. Among the BWA representatives was the Revd Dr Stephen Holmes, senior lecturer in theology a the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Participants will meet on an annual basis until 2018 and the dialogue is aimed at achieving a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, one another; mutual exchange of gifts for the enrichment and renewal of Baptist and Methodist churches; increased participation in a common mission and witness in the world; and deeper fellowship and cooperation by identifying and overcoming barriers. The full theme is Faith Active in Love: Sung and Preached, Confessed and Remembered, Lived and Learned.
At the opening session participants discussed presentations on the history, theology, and contemporary global situation of Baptists and Methodists. The participants worshipped together each day, drawing on the two traditions, and attended the Sunday service at the Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham.
They visited Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the target of a racially motivated bombing in September 1963 that killed four girls in the midst of the American Civil Rights Movement. Participants met with Carolyn McKinstry, author of While the World Watched, based on her experience as a survivor of the 1963 bombing of the church.
They also visited the Civil Rights Institute, a museum and research center in Birmingham's Civil Rights District that depicts the struggles of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, including the role played by the church.
The delegations were welcomed by the provost and executive vice president of the university, Bradley Creed, as well as Debra Wallace-Padgett, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church and Mike McLemore, director of missions for the Birmingham Baptist Association.
The dialogue is co-chaired by Tim Macquiban, superintendent minister of the Cambridge Methodist Circuit and minister of Wesley Methodist Church in Cambridge, England, and Curtis Freeman, research professor and director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina, in the US.
Paul Chilcote, dean of Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio in the US, and Fausto Vasconcelos, BWA director of Mission, Evangelism, and Theological Reflection, serve as co-secretaries.
Other Baptist members present were Timothy George, chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity and dean of Beeson Divinity School; Deji Isaac Ayegboyin, professor of religious studies, University of Ibadan in Nigeria; Valérie Duval-Poujol, professor of biblical exegesis, Catholic Institute in Paris, France; and Dr Holmes.
The Methodist delegation included Robert Gribben from Melbourne, Australia, chair of the Ecumenical Relations Committee of the WMC; Ulrike Schuler, professor at the Reutlingen School of Theology in Germany; Malcolm Tan, pastor of Barker Road Methodist Church in Singapore; Lauren Matthews, minister, Umngeni Circuit, Natal Coastal District, Methodist Church of Southern Africa; and Christine Gooden-Benguche, secretary, Jamaica District Conference, Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas.
BWA General Secretary the Revd Dr Neville Callam was also be at the meetings in Birmingham. Ahead of them he said, 'Participation in bilateral dialogues is an expression of BWA's commitment to continue the mission of God whose Christ prayed for the unity of the church so that the world might believe.'
He added that 'in asking how we might manifest this oneness, we are drawn to the words of the apostle Paul that 'the only thing that counts is faith working through love.'
The meeting in 2015 is planned for Singapore where the dialogue partners will discuss the nature of the church with special attention to justification and sanctification.
Related: Conversations took place between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church 2006-2010. Read the report here