Callam lauded for service to Baptists

Callam responding to the honor paid to him during the BWA Annual Gathering in Bangkok
A plethora of tributes were offered to Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam during the BWA Annual Gathering, held July 2-7 in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Jamaican, the first black person and the first who is neither an American nor a European to lead the BWA, retires in December after more than 10 years of service in the position.

At a dinner held in his honor, Callam, who is from the small town of Gibraltar in Jamaica’s interior, was hailed as being “morally, ethically and spiritually strong as the fabled Rock of Gibraltar.” He was described as a “saint, friend, leader, colleague” who is “moral, compassionate, inclusive.”

The Baptist leader was commended for shepherding the global organization safely through the Great Recession, a period of global financial hardships and economic decline that emerged in 2008 and continued for several years.

Despite periods of economic uncertainty, the BWA under Callam’s leadership raised more than US$26 million, including almost US$12 million to Baptist World Aid, more than US$8 million from churches, institutions and individuals, and more than US$5 million to the General Fund.  He implemented a comprehensive Donor Recognition Program and the 400 Legacy Gift program.

At the same time, the BWA undertook bold initiatives. A new Division on Freedom and Justice was launched after years of discussion and debate. The division was later merged with another division to form the Division on Mission, Evangelism and Justice.  Several commissions were formed, including those on Interfaith Relations, Racial and Gender Justice, Social and Economic Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, Religious Liberty, Human Rights Advocacy and Creation Care.

In emphasizing the importance of evangelism, Callam secured funding, capitalized at US$250,000, for an evangelism award to be given out every five years.

Administratively, the Jamaican spent much of his decade of service streamlining the administration and operational organs of the BWA. He facilitated the revision of the Fiscal Policy Manual and the Human Resources Manual, established the BWA recording studio, redesigned the website, incorporated a conference registration system and updated the IT infrastructure.

The gathering was told that “the unity of the church and of all Christians” is particularly close to Callam’s heart. He has spent much time and effort nurturing “the cultivation of a corporate worship life and practice among Baptists.” In fulfilment of these dreams, he led a collaborative effort that resulted in the publication of the Covenant on Intra-Baptist Relationships. That document, available in 25 languages on the BWA website, has been viewed or downloaded 60,000 times.

BWA membership grew over the past 10 years, with 24 new member organizations, now numbering 238. New countries and territories such as South Sudan, Chad, Grenada, Turks and Caicos Islands and Vietnam were added to the BWA fold.

Described as an “intellectual giant of the faith but a humble servant,” he was lauded for being “resolute in his convictions of the efficacy of the life in Christ” and for being a “man of faith who lives, perceives, thinks and decides theologically.”

Callam came to the general secretary’s office after serving as a BWA vice president. He had wide ecclesial experience, having held every major position in the Jamaica Baptist Union, including serving twice as president, acting as general secretary and being elected treasurer.

He was a leader in Jamaica’s religious community, primarily through the Jamaica Council of Churches, and was a pioneer in religious and public broadcasting on the island. He was founding chair and general manager of TBC FM, The Breath of Change; founding board member of the National Religious Media Commission, operators of Love FM; and founding chair of the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica.

Regionally and globally Callam actively participated in the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, where he was a vice president, and the World Council of Churches, where he was a longstanding member of the influential Commission on Faith and Order, chairing several of that commission’s committees.

Representatives from each of the six regions of the BWA spoke in Callam’s honor at the dinner in Bangkok, including BWA vice presidents Michael Okwakol of Uganda, Dimitrina Oprenova of Bulgaria and Naomi Tyler-Lloyd of the United States.

Others who spoke were Tomás Mackey from Argentina, Devon Dick from Jamaica and Frank Rees of Australia. Ashley Becker spoke on the behalf of the BWA staff.

Video tributes were received from former BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz and Ganoune Diop of the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions, among others.

All video tributes, including those to be included in a second celebration planned for October in Virginia in the United States, will be available on the website.

Baptist World Alliance®
©July 6, 2017