Neville Callam has given notice of his intention to retire as general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) on December 31, 2017.
As per policy, the general secretary, the chief executive of the international umbrella organization for Baptists, should give a minimum notice of 12 months.
Callam, a Jamaican, made history when he was elected to the position in July 2007 during the BWA Annual Gathering in Accra, Ghana, as the first Black person to hold the position. Since its founding in 1905, all previous general secretaries were American or European.
He took over the BWA just when the Great Recession occurred. Working with the Budget and Finance Committee, Callam shepherded the body through the financial crisis and global economic meltdown, with minimal dislocations and impact on the operations of the BWA and its staff.
In addition, after the Implementation Task Force completed its work in 2008, there were major constitutional and operational changes within the BWA, many with potentially disruptive implications on the future of the organization that Callam had to navigate.
Under Callam’s leadership, much work was done to streamline the administration of the BWA office, giving clarity to the alignment of purpose, function and operational modalities. He worked with staff to employ relevant technology to improve BWA functions while minimizing cost, and put in place a conference management system to secure greater economic sustainability.
The divisions on Evangelism and Education and Study and Research were merged into the newly formed Division on Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection (METR).
The Division on Freedom and Justice (F&J) was established in 2008 after years of discussion of the need for such a unit in the BWA. One consequence of the Great Recession was the 2016 merger of both METR and F&J into the Division on Mission, Evangelism and Justice when pledged donor funds failed to materialize to support a separate F&J division.
BWA membership has grown since Callam came into office, moving from 214 to 235 member organizations in 122 countries and territories, bringing new countries and territories such as Vietnam, Grenada, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, into the BWA fold. Some new groups from East and Central Africa found their beginnings in refugee camps in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and South Sudan.
Bread of Life, an evangelism training initiative, a successor to the Jesus Christ, Living Water program, played a significant role in forging Baptist cooperation among various Baptist groups in countries, including Brazil and Haiti. Callam worked tirelessly to help settle disputes among Baptists and bring about reconciliation in places such as Kenya and Liberia.
A Covenant on Intra-Baptist Relations was adopted to provide a framework for BWA response to the diversity of language, culture, opinions and perspectives in meetings and in the various operations of the international body. The document considers the great diversity that exists among Baptists, particularly within the BWA. It assists member organizations to understand that all equally belong in, and are needed by, the BWA and provides a framework for respectful trans-cultural relationships.
In his retirement notice letter, Callam said his commitment in serving the BWA was to “draw attention to the church’s mission as the mission of God,” locating the ministries of relief and development, the defense of freedom and justice and a commitment to the unity of the church within that vision. He ceaselessly insisted “on the theological foundation for these values.”
“You are one of those gifts from God for the church,” BWA President Paul Msiza said in response to Callam’s announcement. “I have been touched and encouraged by your deep faith and commitment to God and to the mission of the church. Your hard work and sacrificial service describe your deep commitment and love for the BWA.”
“My first response was one of sadness. It felt I was losing something very significant and precious,” declared John Upton, former president and current chair of the Human Resources Committee, upon learning of Callam’s plans to retire from the organization. “I have been deeply grateful for the opportunity to work alongside Neville, not only while serving as president of the BWA, but in every other capacity. His deep commitment to the BWA and his tireless service to it will long be appreciated.”
Noting his scholarship and commitment to theological rigor and integrity, Upton said Callam “modeled unsurpassed excellence of service” and that “his leadership has challenged the BWA to become increasingly an authentic global Baptist community.”
Callam acknowledged God’s guiding presence and the support of his wife, Dulcie. “Serving in this position, God has never failed me and, through all the opportunities and challenges, I have benefited from the unwavering faithfulness of my wife who has helped me selflessly.”
A search committee is expected to commence work to choose Callam’s successor.
Baptist World Alliance®
©November 21, 2016