Despite the travel limitations imposed by COVID-19, a group of Baptist and Catholic scholars have continued their historic dialogue on ecumenical relationships.
Conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity were put on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic but resumed last week via Zoom. Two working sessions were held on June 16 and 18.
“While we continue to long for the time when we can resume our face-to-face work as a whole joint commission, it was a joy for us to be able to renew our relationships and worship together virtually,” said Steven Harmon, professor of historical theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, who serves as co-secretary of the group.
“Even this far into the changed circumstances of the pandemic, it seems almost miraculous that from Mumbai, India, and Melbourne, Australia, to Boiling Springs, N.C., from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Toronto, Ontario, and from Rome, Oxford and other places in Europe and North America, we were able to see and talk with one another, almost as if we were again sitting around a dialogue table. We pray that we will be able to do so in a more fully embodied way again in the near future, as the enduring relationships we forge with one another are as important to the future of Baptist-Catholic relationships as the documents our work produces.”
The longstanding dialogue between Catholic and Baptist theologians began in 1984 and currently is in Phase III of its work, focusing on “The Dynamic of the Gospel and the Witness of the Church.” A hybrid meeting using both virtual and regional gatherings is planned for December 2021.
The Baptist World Alliance is a fellowship of 241 Baptist conventions and unions in 126 countries and territories comprised of 47 million baptized believers in 169,000 churches. The Pontifical Council is an outgrowth of Vatican II and has official sanction to work for ecumenical understanding and Christian unity.
At this summer’s meetings, the Baptist delegation was led by co-chair Frank Rees, associate professor and chair of the academic board at the University of Divinity in Australia, and the Catholic delegation was led by co-chair Arthur Serratelli, bishop emeritus of Paterson, N.J.
The hybrid meeting scheduled for December will include in-person gatherings hosted by Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., and hosted by the Pontifical Council in Rome.
The Baptist delegation for this month’s virtual meetings included Paul S. Fiddes (UK), Derek Hatch (USA), Glenroy Lalor (Jamaica), Tomas Mackey (Argentina), Elizabeth Newman (USA), Lina Toth (Lithuania/UK), Valerie Duval-Poujol (France), and BWA Director of Integral Mission Everton Jackson (Jamaica/USA).
The Catholic delegation consisted of Peter Casarella (USA), Stephen Fernandes (India), William Henn (Italy), Przemslaw Kantyka (Poland), Marie-Hélène Robert (France), Jorge A. Scampini (Argentina), and Susan Wood (USA).
Serving as co-secretary along with Harmon is Avelino Gonzalez-Ferrer of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.