ACCRA, Ghana (ABP) — Neville Callam, a Jamaican pastor, theologian and author, was unanimously elected July 6 as the first non-white general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. He is also the 102-year-old alliance's first leader not from the United States or Europe.
Callam, senior pastor of two congregations in Jamaica, is a former BWA vice president and former president of the Jamaica Baptist Union. Active in BWA for more than 20 years, he currently serves on its implementation task force, which restructures the organization's work for the future.
Denton Lotz, the retiring general secretary, affirmed his “100-percent support” of Callam's election.
“I think God has blessed you in a wonderful way and has prepared you for this,” Lotz told his successor.
Search committee chairman John Sundquist said the 13-member committee included representatives from eight nations. He also described Callam as “an articulate Baptist statesman with a global reputation … and a faithful follower of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.”
Citing Callam's “unusual depth of theological knowledge,” Sundquist said he “is the most seminal theological thinker I have ever met.”
Burchell Taylor, president of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, described Callam's nomination as “part of the mysterious unfolding of God's own purpose.”
He said Callam's election would add a “new, creative dimension … to Baptist world history.”
Responding to his election by the organization's general council, Callam told council members that the “Baptist world family joyfully declares that the BWA has become a worldwide body with a truly global reach. In this alliance, every member is God's gift to the membership as a whole. We all belong together.”
Callam also said that God is working “to make a wonderful mosaic that models the diversity that enriches and builds up unity, rather than diluting or diminishing it.”
Callam's election at the BWA annual gathering in Accra, Ghana, came one day after participants held a service of memory and reconciliation at Ghana's Cape Coast Slave Castle. The service included moments of remembrance, confession and pardon in honor of the Africans sold into slavery during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Noting that “my ancestors were born somewhere on this great continent of Africa,” Callam said, “They were rounded up and shipped to the West Indies, where they endured many years of enslavement. Then God emancipated both them and their oppressors.”
Declaring that his forefathers “encountered God who revealed to them the truth about their humanity and also God's great love for them,” Callam said “they found full freedom by the grace of the God revealed to us in our lord and savior Jesus Christ.”
Following Callam's election, BWA President David Coffey led a brief commissioning service.
“When leadership changes, the ministry continues,” Coffey said, comparing the leadership transition from Lotz to Callam with that of Moses and Joshua.
Callam, a specialist in Christian ethics, is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and Harvard Divinity School. He and his wife, Dulcie, are the parents of two adult children.