A short while ago, New Baptist Covenant organizers reflected on the Celebration meeting. Expressing excitement at working across racial, gender and ethnic lines, organizers praised the meeting as a success, and are eager to see what lasting results might materialize. You can read a summary of President Carter's remarks, in particular, here.
Collectively, conference organizers noted that small group followup meetings and future strategies are already being discussed. Some participants in some states will meet next week to discuss what lies ahead; several hundred seminary students have been tasked with generating follow up ideas from input received this week.
Noting that a groundswell for Baptist unity had been gathering for several years prior to the Covenant meeting, Dr. David Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, called this week's gathering "very visual and demonstrative" for Baptists of North America. Recent joint endeavors by major African-American Baptist conventions and a heightened awareness within the North American Baptist Fellowship, a regional expression of the Baptist World Alliance, preceded the visioning of the New Baptist Covenant Celebration.
In 1814 Baptists in America formally entered the era of institutional denominationalism with the formation of a national Baptist convention. Today, the old structures are being challenged as never before. "There is a breakdown in trust of institutions," Jimmy Allen, Celebration leader and former Southern Baptist Convention president Dr. Jimmy Allen noted. Indeed, no one here is talking about the formation of another convention. Rather, 2008 may be remembered in Baptist circles as the year in which Baptists in America moved beyond the era of institutional denominationalism and entered into the stream of a "Baptist World Movement," in the words of Goatley.
Rather than institutional muscle, Dr. William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, pointed to the "Spirit of God" as enabling a new era of Baptist unity. Jimmy Allen declared that modern "communication systems" will play an instrumental role in the future as the diverse Baptists represented in the Covenant meeting move forward together.
A non-institutional Baptist World Movement among Baptists of North America, guided by the spirit of God and enabled by modern communications systems? It could happen. Long-time Baptist historian Buddy Shurden earlier today summed up this week's events as "the most significant Baptist meeting I have ever been to." Many present at this gathering look forward to the next chapter in this unfolding drama.