By Clinton J. Holloway
While pleading in season and out of season for the unity of a divided Church, our world Brotherhood has neglected all too much to cultivate fellowship, cooperation and unity within itself.
When Jesse Bader wrote these words more than 75 years ago, he recognized the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement were living in too much isolation from one another. Bader saw that Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians had for years sought a larger world unity and fellowship within their own households of faith. A man of vision and discernment, Bader realized our movement needed a closer fellowship and a greater bond of unity to stem the tide of isolation from the world in the period between the World Wars and as the result of the polarization then drawing lines in the movement in the United States and on the mission field.
As a movement within the church that had the “unity of all believers” as a major tenet of faith, and indeed an impetus for genesis, unity was not an elective in a broad catalogue, but a requirement foundational to the core of who we were and are as a people.
A Prophetic Voice
Thus Jesse Bader became the prophetic voice “crying out in the wilderness” for a global gathering of the Stone-Campbell Movement then found in at least 35 countries. Convened in Washington, D.C., October 19-23, 1930, the first World Convention drew participants from 30 countries with representatives from each country giving brief presentations about their respective nation. As many as 10,000 people may have attended the sessions, which included a pageant of flags, roll call of nations, and a reception on the White House lawn hosted by President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover.
At the time of the first convention, Bader wrote, “How fitting for brethren of the same ‘household of faith’ to come ‘together in one place with one accord’ from the ends of the earth.” The 1930 convention was the first time heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement from so many diverse backgounds and far-flung countries gathered together around the Lord’s table.
Meeting next in Leicester, England, in August 1935, the second World Convention drew large delegations from the United States and Canada with more than 500 sailing together to join the representatives from 35 other nations. For many North American delegates it was their first opportunity to experience worship in the context of our British churches.
More than 100 people from six continents appeared on the program presenting a wide range of talents from within the movement and around the world. It was an experience opening eyes to a new worldview.
World War II delayed the third convention, scheduled for Toronto in 1940, until 1947 when it convened in Buffalo, New York. At the time of the Buffalo convention, Bader noted that, due in part to the war and the subsequent creation of the United Nations, the old days of isolation of men and nations were gone and in all lands people were discussing a new term: “one world.”
While many nations were coming to a “global thinking,” Bader was able to point out that the same was true also for the churches; he said never before had the churches of all lands been more sensitive to their oneness in Christ. Bader could take pride in the fact he had helped take the vision of unity born on the American frontier of Stone, the Campbells, and others and helped connect it with like-minded individuals around the world.
Subsequent conventions in the last half of the 20th century saw gatherings in Australia, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Jamaica as well as returns to the United States and Great Britain. In addition, those years saw the expansion of World Convention from a periodic gathering every few years to a day-to-day ministry of building fellowship, understanding, common purpose, and effectiveness within the family known as the Stone-Campbell Movement (Christian-Disciples of Christ-Churches of Christ).
World Convention has since become a voice for the movement in the wider church and a tie binding together the work of the Stone-Campbell Movement in nearly 180 countries in all parts of the globe. With God’s blessing the movement continues to grow; World Convention shares the vision “that the world might believe!” World Convention is proud to be a part of that growth and greater global awareness.
Seventy-five years after Jesse Bader brought his vision for a World Convention to fruition, his original purposes of better acquaintance, closer fellowship, and mutual fellowship remain as important as ever. The year of the diamond anniversary is a time to look forward to the future of our global fellowship in the Stone-Campbell Movement.
Plans are well underway for the 2008 convention in Nashville, Tennessee. The largest World Convention yet is anticipated for the 17th global gathering. Stimulating speakers, equipping ministry tracks, a Global Leaders’ Forum, youth program, service opportunities, uplifting worship, and of course, fellowship with like-minded Christians from around the world are being planned.
In addition to planning the quadrennial assembly, there is the day-to-day ministry of World Convention that plays an important part in building fellowship, common purpose, understanding, and effectiveness. According to Jeff Weston, the World Convention’s general secretary, “The World Convention is more than just a meeting that happens every four years. It is a ministry to the body of Christ at large as it fulfills God’s calling to mission.” Reflecting on the legacy of his predecessors, Weston believes the World Convention still has a valuable role to play in drawing together not just the various streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement in the United States but also the global involvement of the movement. Through the monthly e-mail magazine ChristiaNet, 6,000 homes and offices around the globe are connected with news and events throughout the movement while 10,000 hard copies of the quarterly magazine World Christian are mailed with additional news and articles. The World Convention Web site features more than 100 national profiles and stories of how God has worked through his people from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe (go to http://www.worldconvention.organd click on National Profiles). The list of countries continues to grow!
Prayer, networking, correspondence, and international visits are all important facets of the ministry of World Convention. “For many Christian leaders, missionaries, and churches the World Convention acts as a catalyst keeping them in touch with a global network of like-minded and committed people.” Weston says, “For others, we assist them to find resources they need to undertake effective ministry.”
(SIDEBAR) Committed Leaders, an Important Anniversary
The observance of the diamond anniversary provides an opportunity to look back upon the history and mission of World Convention, past accomplishments, current activities, and future goals. Several special events are being planned throughout the year. Also, an Anniversary Campaign has been instituted to raise $75,000 to strengthen the day-to-day operations and help underwrite the vision for the future.
Jeff Weston is general secretary of the World Convention. The native of Australia assumed the role on January 1 from outgoing secretaries Lyndsay and Lorraine Jacobs. The Board of World Convention is made up of trustees from each of the three branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement in the United States (Christian–Disciples of Christ–Church of Christ) as well as trustees from Canada, Zimbabwe, Australia, Poland, Great Britain, Jamaica, and India. Dr. C. Robert Wetzel, president of Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee, is president of the World Convention and will preside over the 17th Convention in Nashville July 30—August 3, 2008.
On the Web at www.worldconvention.org
Clinton Holloway is national profiles editor for the World Convention.