Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering 2023
by Rev. Anna Perry Miller
As a General Council member for the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV), it was my privilege to attend their Annual Gathering in Stavanger, Norway. More than 500 Baptist brothers and sisters, coming from 82 countries, joined together for worship and fellowship, for connecting over and considering important ministry areas, to see the bigger picture that displays how we work together for God’s kingdom, and to spur one another on in ministry.
Some familiar faces were there. Executive Director Wayne Faison, of the BGAV, was interviewed in our regional meeting, introducing him to other North American leaders as he shared ways that Virginia is charting new territory. He is our first African American Executive Director, which he considers an honor and a responsibility. In addition, Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley, from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), was in attendance. He has the opportunity to represent the great work that we are doing through the CBF as well. These, and many other associational leaders, were prayed over, along with the ministries they represent.
The General Council unanimously approved eight new members, which brings the total BWA membership to 253 Baptist organizations in 130 countries and territories. Hearing their enthusiasm and commitment to reaching the world for Christ and meeting needs in all of God’s creation, is both humbling and exciting. In addition, a resolution was passed in acknowledgement of the Sámi people, an Indigenous people group of Norway. The statement upholds the dignity and justice for Indigenous peoples, celebrates diversity, and condemns mistreatment and genocide resulting from colonialism, and all injustices against this group. There is lament over the roles some Baptists and Christians had in such evil, even while there is praise for brave individuals who advocated and offered care. Included in this resolution is a call for every Baptist church and union to study their own historical and present complicity in discrimination against Indigenous peoples, so reparations can be made and healing commence.
Baptist Women gathered for a special lunch, hosted by Norwegian sisters at the Tjensvoll Church. During lunch we met beautiful female leaders from around the world, who were as passionate about their work as they were lovely. Just at my table, four countries were represented, as I ate and shared with women from Moldova, Canada, Taiwan, and the United States. We were challenged to fight against domestic violence and maintain an awareness of the vast need surrounding this issue, even as we sang and prayed together. Each year, BWA hosts a Baptist Women’s Day of Prayer. It was so touching to see the photo taken of the women in Ukraine who got together on that day to pray for the needs of the world in the midst of their own hardship and fear.
Committed to historical Baptist doctrine and identity, the BWA is on mission to share Christ’s message and provide aid and relief across the global community where there is need. BWA Commissions are smaller groups of individuals united over specific ministry focal areas. Two commissions focus on Baptist doctrine, unity, heritage and identity, seeking to keep us grounded in historical Baptist principles while remaining united. Part of operating from a Baptist perspective is the strong focus on religious freedom, seeking to protect this freedom for all people. There are commissions focused on peacebuilding, human rights, Christian ethics, racial, gender, and economic justice, creation care, interfaith relations, theological education, and transformational leadership. Truly, the BWA seeks to be united in accomplishing meaningful, necessary work as followers of Christ.
Not to be discounted were the opportunities to hear a great contemporary theologian, Miroslav Volf in two separate sessions. His sharing was accessible, personal, and challenging. And, finally, an opportunity was given for anyone wishing to hike the great Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock. This cliff sits 1800 feet above the water below. It is a round trip of 4.8 miles, up this 1500 foot climb and descent. It was challenging for sure, but entirely worth it.
Thank you very much, River Road Church, for the time you provide for your ministers to attend conferences each year. Through these opportunities we are encouraged and challenged while being connected to the bigger picture of God’s work in the world. It allows us to return to share such stories in our congregation in Richmond so we might all know the joy of being part of something wonderful and rich.