On Friday, July 6, Reverend Neville Callam broke the glass ceiling when he was elected and commissioned as the next general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance by becoming the first person of African ancestry to hold such a significant position.
This historic event happened in Ghana, West Africa, the place from whichmost Jamaicans originated. It happened in the year 2007, when members of the British Commonwealth are observing the 200th anniversary of the end of the brutal slave trade in the British colonies. Formerly, in the 100-year history of the BWA, the position of general secretary was held either by Europeans or North Americans. The question could be asked why it took so long, and what are the factors facilitating this change?
It is apparent that a wind of change is blowing through the Baptist World Alliance, and Neville Callam, as a known change agent, is the right man in the right place to lead the BWA in new and different directions while preserving that which is good.
Neville has an outstanding record as a change agent while serving the Jamaica Baptist Union. Having served competently in the positions of president, general secretary and treasurer, when the history of the last 25 years of the JBU work is written, Neville Callam's name will be there as integral in most of the creative and innovative occurrences in the JBU. The structure of the assembly has not been the same because of Neville; the liturgy has not been the same because of Neville; and the media programmes have not been the same because of Neville.
Neville Callam as a servant leader was never one to crave position. The position of general secretary of the BWA sought him. Though he served on many committees of the Jamaica Council of Churches, he never sought the office of presidency. Nevertheless, he played crucial roles for the JCC. Perhaps the most significant was the role of mediator between the factions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the 1990s. Talk with Rev. Marjorie Lewis, who recently got her Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham, and she can give you the details of Neville's monumental work.
But what can be expected of Neville in his new role? Neville Callam is steeped in orthodox Baptist beliefs. Whereas many Christians claim belief in the Trinity, some hardly mention Trinity and their liturgy, speech and theology do not reflect the Trinitarian concept. Not so with Neville whose acceptance speech reflected his Trinitarian beliefs.
In addition, Neville's speech in Accra, Ghana also affirmed his commitment to the ecumenical movement. This is not surprising because he has served for decades on the powerful WCC's Faith and Order Commission. Neville will definitely continue with other denominations the dialogue which was started under the leadership of outgoing General Secretary Denton Lotz. The recent pronouncement by the Vatican under the new Pope that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church might pose new challenges, but the knowledgeable Neville is the right man in the right place.
What can one expect with Neville being the general secretary? The BWA will go to a new level in terms of organisation and better execution of meetings. The concerns, thinking and research from the two thirds world will find equal space within the halls of the BWA along with the perspectives of the Europeans and North Americans.
I was privileged, as a member of a large Jamaican delegation, to witness Neville Callam break the glass ceiling and as the ceiling came down so did the tears of many proud Jamaicans, who will again gather at the Bethel Baptist Church this Thursday to commemorate the appointment.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church and author of 'Rebellion to Riot: the Church in Nation Building'.