2016: Vancouver, Canada

The commission met in Vancouver, Canada, during the BWA’s Annual Gathering from July 6-8, 2016. Topics of each session are described below. 


Session 1:  Wednesday, July 6, 2:00-4:00 pm

2:00-2:15 – Introductions and Updates on Commission Members

Dr. Brian Talbot opened the series of meetings with a reading from Psalm 107 and prayer, followed by a welcome and the sharing of regrets from those who had written to send greetings. Twenty-two persons attended the Commission’s first session. Brian then introduced our guest presenters.

Axel Schroeber and Jeremy Bell

Axel Schroeber and Jeremy Bell

2:15-3:00 – Dr. Axel Schoeber presented his paper, “Muted Mission An Interpreted Historical Essay on the Impact of Baptists in Western Canada.”  Dr. Schoeber teaches Supervised Ministry and Baptist Identity, as well as shepherds the Mentored Ministry Programme for pastors new to the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, at Carey Theological College, Vancouver.

Dr. Schoeber described the land as Europeans had found it when they began to arrive about 1869 and following. Ontario Baptists settled here under the leadership of Pioneer McDonald and his church planting successors, like C. C. McLaurin. Schoeber explored both what caused Canadian Baptists to grow and what factors have muted the Baptist voice across the years. He cited 2011 census figures for the population of Canada (10,149,660) and Baptists (195,590), noting that Baptists represent about 2% of the national population and that among Baptists about 21% are refugees. Read Dr. Schoeber’s paper, Muted Mission.

3:00-3:45 – Dr. Jeremy Bell presented “Building on a Remarkable Legacy: Baptist Witness in Western Canada” in the second half of the Commission’s initial meeting. Bell is the Executive Minister/Director of Canadian Baptists of Western Canada. He offered a multi-faceted look at the current issues that  face both Canadian Baptists and other Evangelicals and the Baptist response to these, including post-modernity, syncretism or pluralism, public prayer, indigenous people groups, the environment, euthanasia, and gender and sexual issues. Read Dr. Bell’s paper, Building on a Remarkable Legacy.

3:45-4:00 – A lively dialogue between the presenters and audience took place following the papers.


Session 2: Thursday, July 7, 4:30-6:30 pm

2:00-2:10 – Welcome and Introduction of Members and Guest Speaker, Rev. JodiLynn Spargur

2:10-3:00 – JodiLynn Spargur presented “Baptists and First People of Canada 1846-1976,” which was a provoking and disturbing narrative of how the native peoples of Canada were evangelized. The story of their poor treatment by business and governmental leaders whose interests were more economic than spiritual made for hard hearing. There was a strong trajectory of starting churches and the raising up of indigenous leadership, but the imposition of class, racial, and cultural restrictions by multiple agencies caused the peoples to be oppressed, killed, and infected with deadly diseases. Children were separated from their families by the thousands and sent to residential schools, where they were often abused. She told the history of a people whose language and culture were almost eradicated from Canada at the hands of government-and-business-funded church schools. Read her paper.

3:10-3:45 – JodiLynn presented part two of her presentation about the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,” whose motto has been, “For the child taken, for the parent left behind.” Her paper was titled “Canadian Baptists and Indigenous Peoples.” As a nation, Canada is still reeling from the largest class-action suit and settlement ever filed in the history of the world. Survivors of some of the schools mentioned in the first paper sued the nation of Canada on behalf of the more than 100 years of systemic abuse that sought to “kill the Indian in the child.” Testimonies of the victims were entered as evidence to question the legality of the system that allowed this kind of violence to continue for more than a century. Called “cultural genocide,” government and churches were indicted by the courts, particularly Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and United Churches, as well as others. The suicide rates among First Peoples today are staggering. The years of injustice have left ethnic populations without hope, viable positive models for rearing their own children, and the comfort of their mother languages to give expression to the pain and generations of grief.

JodiLynn Spargur and Brian Talbot

Spargur then covered how Canadians are responding to this atrocity following the recent court decision and reparations decrees. Most Canadians were ignorant of this perpetration, as were generations of their families before them. As Canadians, Baptists are also finding ways to respond to the national crisis. As the government has recommended that all faith communities, among other items, repudiate these actions, comply with the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People, provide education for clergy and church members, and fund healing resources for all, the country is beginning to find ways to channel this reality into positive steps forward. Mercy ministries, Healing at the Wounding Place, prayer walks, and finding ways to build trust are examples of new directions for ministry. Canadian Baptists request prayer for the First Peoples, for themselves, and their country as they begin the hard work of reconciliation. Jodi’s courageous paper can be read here.

3:45-4:00 – The Question and Answer discussion was a deeply moving time, followed by prayer for Rev. Jodi, whose church is comprised of indigenous peoples, and who works to advocate for healing and justice for them in both the public square and ministry contexts.      


Session 3: Friday, July 8, 2:00-4:00 pm

2:00-2:10 – Welcome, Opening Remarks

Email addresses that bounced back were discussed and members volunteered to check with the members to see if everyone is receiving the Commission information.

2:10-3:10 – Review of Old Business and Commission Dialogue and Actions

 1. Commission Website:

The Commission expressed its heartfelt thanks and commendation to David Parker for serving as Webmaster since the Melbourne Congress in 2000. He designed and placed our Commission’s website on the Internet, where it still houses the work of the Commission in electronic form. The website is available at https://bwabaptistheritage.org/.

David Parker spoke about the need for someone to come alongside and take the reins of the website, give it a new look, and expand its reach. The goal for the website is to have a central place that is at the same time content-rich, simple to use, and viewable from anywhere in the world. The Commission members will need to continue to contribute content on national histories to its recourse pages, to provide lists of Baptist resources in geographic regions, and explore new studies in Baptist life (for example, how Baptist “Identity” is defined and perceived globally; see below). The group agreed that these were crucial areas of work that need to be accomplished this quinquennium.

The domain name has been switched to a new company, and funded by anonymous gifts from Commission members through the year 2020. David is holding the remaining year of payment until the company will receive the next installment.

In the discussion that followed, Melody Maxwell agreed to shoulder the responsibility for the Commission’s website. She will update the site and serve as the commission’s Webmaster until 2020. She and David will continue to work out the distribution of jobs between them related to the website.


2. History and Heritage E-Resource Pages on Website

A. History Summaries Section

The members discussed the status of the brief histories now contained on the History page on the website. An earnest desire for every Baptist group to be represented still drives the work forward. Some individual groups within countries were captured from the BWA Archives, but others are still needed. David Parker will serve as the champion of this work team. He will check which groups are finished against the master list of BWA affiliated members, and see which ones still need histories, which ones need more information, and which ones are sufficient to remain as printed.

David will send this list to Commission members, who can choose to write the brief histories, which should be a few hundred words with two-to-three pictures for each history submitted.

We will discuss next year the possibility of translating these histories into other languages, so that everyone may benefit from the information.

B. Heritage Resource Section

The website contains a section of “Resources” that may be of help to all Baptists, particularly those writing or doing research on Baptist history. Several lists of resources are already posted, but Melody Maxwell will take on the updating of resource lists from around the world. Each Commission Member is asked to take care of this assignment covering his or her own area. Please go to the website at https://bwabaptistheritage.org/ and look to see if your geographic region is represented.

The goal is to survey all available Baptist history libraries, repositories, archives, and websites in your area of the world and make an annotated list (if possible), relating what is contained in the holding, and where it is located. If it is an electronic source, please send the web address of the list or repository to Melody.

Special commendation was given to the resource list compiled by Baylor that covers the USA. It is listed on the website and can serve as an example.


3. Baptist Identity Project

The Commission thought it would be helpful in fulfilling its BWA mandate to explore the concept of “Identity” among Baptists globally. In approaching such a project, several questions may guide the boundaries of the undertaking:

What it means to be “Baptist” or “Baptistic” in each cultural and theological setting.

This might involve collecting a representative range of testimonies of Baptist identities from around the world. These could aid Baptist identity classes where they are taught and help to create a better understanding of baptistic convictions that vary among Baptist constituencies within the same country and in different countries or continents.

 How Baptists have expressed their “Identifiers” (Distinctives) through the 400+ years of our heritage.

This question might involve mining Baptist historical texts, linking to or copying websites from global Baptist bodies and arranging by geography, topic, theology, or theme those elements of “identity.” It might involve compiling a chart comparing and contrasting differences, commonalities, or principles, among Baptists of the world.

The Commission’s website could be a portal to significant statements from Baptist conventions, fellowships, federations, alliances, universities and schools, and churches regarding self-defining “Identity.” Allowing for diversity, what are the elements that express Baptist identity or principles that are common to all Baptists? Is there any short list that all Baptists would “own” as “self-descriptive?”

Another view could be from those who perceive Baptists from the outside of the Baptist circle. How do others see Baptist Identity?

Do we need a book that explains BWA’s impact upon the world on an international level? How Baptist ideas/principles have shaped or ‘blessed the world’?

Members were asked to contribute to this project by locating and submitting identity statements, or distinctives, or “best practices” of Baptists. Different approaches to different issues or categories, or topics, would be another perspective. We were asked to think about creative page links, where we could submit testimonies, videos, interviews, what it looks like to “be a Baptist” in a specific country or group? Identify Baptist groups that have been “left out,” or rendered silent. Ethnic voices must be a part of this project.

Karen Bullock agreed to receive materials and begin work on organizing this identity project, perhaps with a PhD student’s help. Email Karen Bullock.


4. Book Review Project Continued 

David Parker has kindly championed the book reviews for the website. He encourages members to continue to submit reviews on a wide range of Baptist history. He serves as facilitator to invite Baptists from across BWA to contribute short reviews of key Baptist works produced in their parts of the world.


5. Upcoming Zurich Annual Gathering in 2018 (if this continues to be the plan):

The Commission agreed to focus substantially on the Anabaptist and Baptist connections in the sessions, and to solicit papers dealing with this subject. There may even be a joint reconciliation between Swiss Reformed Church and Baptists planned by BWA.

The Commission indicated a desire to arrange for a tour to take place before or after the Zurich Annual Gathering that would visit major Magisterial, Anabaptist, and Baptist sites in the region. Stephen Stookey and Karen Bullock agreed to submit to the Commission a sample of sites to be visited and discussed regarding their inclusion. Everyone is encouraged to submit suggestions of sites for the trip.


6. As the Commission closed its session, it honored Noel Vose, member of the Commission, who died this year.

 -Minutes of the Session of the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission submitted by Karen Bullock, 14 August 2016