Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done
The unprecedented 171st General Assembly of the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU) opened on Wednesday, February 24, without the usual pomp and ceremonies.
This is the very first time since 1783 that the JBU was convening a fully virtual assembly – a casualty of the alarming COVID-19 pandemic that has caused the Jamaican Government to restrict large gatherings and impose an islandwide curfew on the country.
Guided by the new thematic banner, Keeping Faith with the Word in an Ever-changing world: Reaffirming identity, the historic virtual assembly got underway at precisely 7:00 pm just one hour before curfew, with the usual warm yet abridged welcome and opening remarks by General Secretary Karl B Johnson; followed by the singing of the opening hymn, Sing praise to the Lord, led by the cantors Derri Ann Palmer, Wynton Williams, Joseph McIntyre.
United Theological College (UTC) student, Tevon Frater, led the Old Testament reading from Exodus 19:1-8, while, Dr. Rosemarie Heath led the New Testament reading from Matthew 13:44-53 of the Jamaican Creole Bible. The readings were preceded by a dance from the Bethel Baptist church.
The usual splendor of the more than 100 voice combined choirs was conspicuously absent this year, but its abridged replacement – the seven member JBU Chamber Choir – compensated with their inspiring interpretation of Randegger’s Praise ye the Lord.
Reaffirming identity, the agenda and the agents
And then came the Rev Norva Rodney with his maiden presidential address that was neither ‘curfewed’ nor curtailed.
Rodney pointed to the timely relevance of the theme within the context of global realities that had impacted life and quality of life.
He noted that now more than ever, Christians needed to “draw strength and meaning for life from the unchanging word of God …”
The JBU president painstakingly described the permissive ‘selfie’ culture that had given cause for critical self-examination and renewal. It is in this context, he asserted, that Baptists needed to understand, accept and reaffirm their kingdom identity as agents of God’s divine agenda.
Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done
Inspired by the Lord’s prayer in St Matthew 6 and with particular emphasis on verse 10, the JBU president explained that a prayer for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done was a confession of our deliberate distortion of God’s creation; a call for deliverance from social oppression and injustices; and a resolve to use God’s power to end social chaos and oppression.
Reaffirming our identify in Jesus Christ, therefore, was an imperative to reframe and deepen our understanding of God’s ongoing mission in God’s world (the Agenda) and how we understand ourselves (the Agents) in relation to God’s agenda.
Against this background, the president emphasised that in order to strengthen and secure our Christian identity, Baptist Christians ought to ensure that the Church’s agenda mirrors the sovereignty of God and that God’s agents model a commitment of Christ-like submission to God.
The preacher urged the Baptist Union to pursue relentlessly, its advocacy for social justice, and kingdom values and attitudes. According to the preacher, pursuing God’s social justice agenda would result in exposing corruption and criminal elements; renouncing self-centredness and self-preservation; even while improving the quality of life of the most vulnerable; and ensuring that scarce resources like the COVID-19 vaccines were distributed equitably.
In unpacking his second point, Rodney noted that for Baptists to become God’s effective agents and ambassadors of reconciliation, we would need to engage in and subject ourselves to “ongoing assessment of our character, convictions and conduct in the light of our unique identity”.
He emphasised further, the need for Baptists to be ‘all-inclusive’ in God’s mission; avoid self-serving, self-centred prayers and programs; and live as “spiritually transformed citizens of the kingdom, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God”.
“We are God’s agents committed to God’s agenda. Let us reaffirm our identity by submitting our wills to the sovereign will of God, and pray for ‘Thine O God is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever’ amen”.
And thus concluded the opening ceremony of the JBU’s first virtual general assembly, with the hymn of response, Who is on the Lord’s side and benediction by the General Secretary.
Yes, there were some bleeps precipitated by the technology, but we worshipped God in spite of …
- – Dorrett Campbell