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52nd Annual Session - Progressive National Baptist Convention

Greetings by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, to the 52nd Annual Session of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. Detroit, Michigan, USA, 8 August 2013.

08 August 2013

Greetings to the 52nd Annual Session of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. Detroit, Michigan, USA

To President Baltimore,

To Rev. Kip Banks, interim general secretary,

To Rev. Dr Tyrone Pitts, general secretary emeritus and member of the WCC Executive Committee,

To the leadership and members of the Progressive National Baptist Convention,

To visitors and friends,

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am honored by this gracious invitation conveyed to me during a visit to the PNBC headquarter in DC last February.  It is a privilege for me and my colleague, Ms Natasha Klukach, North American regional executive, to be at the 52nd annual session here in Detroit, MI as you worship, study, and deliberate together under the theme, “Securing our Future:  Seeking--A People of Service.”

I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s call to discipleship is a call to seek, "to strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness" as it is written in the gospel of Matthew (6:33).  Your church is a significant member among the 350 churches in the World Council of Churches. You are one of those churches who have strengthened our profile in our seeking for the manifestation of the kingdom of God in our time and in our countries. You have a strong legacy of seeking, dreaming, and fighting for justice and peace - for human and civil rights - for all.

You are the only one of the 350 churches carrying the name "Progressive". Now you reflect on how God calls you to progress into the future with determination and vision, and with the attitude to serve.

As we know from the Gospel stories, the servants of God only can serve when we are willing to be served by Jesus Christ himself and consequently by the fellowship to which we belong, called the body of Christ. The fellowship of the WCC is a fellowship where we serve and are served by the gifts of the others. We have been greatly inspired by your seeking of the kingdom of God and its righteousness - and we look to you as you seek the way you can serve those who most need you today and tomorrow.  We need you - and we believe you need this fellowship.

The church’s future is only secure when the church adopts a position of humility, making it poised for service and allowing it to relate to the world in peace with justice. This weds nicely to the theme of the upcoming World Council of Churches Assembly this October, in Busan, Republic of Korea, “God of Life, lead us to justice and peace.” In making a prayer our theme, we involve our longings, our hopes, our dreams, our faith; and we include our communities of believers in a common vision. The WCC as a fellowship of churches has a mission to help one another to be more authentic and more strategic servants, together, as we always are both in our communities and in the world. The quest for unity, the call to mission, the public witness and the diaconal ministry are integrated dimensions of being church.

Following the assembly, we are called to walk together on a pilgrimage of justice and peace. I come today to invite you, as a faithful member church of this global fellowship, to walk together with us on this pilgrimage.

You are well-suited for this pilgrimage because social justice is at the origins of this convention. PNBC has a legacy of pilgrimage for justice and peace, being birthed to serve as a spiritual home for Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Baptist leaders in the American Civil Rights movement. Your legacy has been and remains focused on civil and human rights. This is evident even today as I review the proceedings and programming for this annual meeting. The global fellowship of churches needs your witness, your gifts, and your experience of an understanding of church as the gathered people of God seeking justice and peace.  You march in your communities here in the US and other parts of the world as drum majors for justice.

Your brothers and sisters from around the world celebrate with you for the progress that has been made through your prayers and common actions of solidarity, yet, there is still much work to do as is evidenced by the events of this summer with the US Supreme Court’s decision related to the Voters Rights Act for which Dr King, the PNBC, and others fought so hard to secure and with the not-guilty verdict related to the tragic death of young Trayvon Martin. Racism is still a disease in the US and in other parts of the world.

Violence, particularly gun violence, remains a threat to the secure future for which we work and pray.  Being here in Detroit reminds us that the gap between those who have and have not continues to deepen.  Economic justice must remain on the agenda of the church in order to secure a hopeful future for all the world.  The church in this context surely is called to work for quality public education for all children and for decent work that allows for families to break free from poverty. Though it might be tempting to focus on past accomplishments, there is a present urgency that reminds us that there is still much work still to do.

I have the privilege to travel around the world to share with Christians and to hear their stories, whether in Nigeria where inter-religious violence continues or Sudan as churches organise themselves to support new democratic governance, or in Israel-Palestine where the churches want to be true witnesses of a just peace, or in Pakistan where the churches struggle against arbitrary use of the blasphemy laws, or in Greece where the churches address the consequences of the financial crisis in Europe.

Once I entered your country, the passport controller checked my passport very carefully, hesitating to stamp it.  After a while he asked, "Sir, why do you travel only to the wrong places?" He let me in. But the question is very good and has remained in my heart.  A pilgrimage for justice and peace with the churches in the world is and should be to the “wrong places,” where people struggle against violence and injustice.  We know where the "wrong places" are - each in our contexts and countries. There we shall seek - and find - the kingdom of God and its righteousness.

May the God of Life bless you and your country, and lead you on your journey toward justice and peace for all and to even greater service to God and the people of God!

WCC general secretary
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit