Leaders from the U.S. Roman Catholic church and four Reformed Protestant denominations signed a historic agreement on Tuesday, January 29 in Austin, TX. The churches signing this agreement will formally recognize each other’s liturgical rites of baptism. Five denominations engaged in discussion over seven years leading up to this agreement, which was signed at a prayer service and celebration at St. Mary Cathedral. The event was part of the opening day activities of the national meeting of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. which wrapped up their meetings today. Representatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Reformed Church in North America, Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ signed the document.
"Before the agreement, Protestant denominations of the Reformed Church tradition normally accepted Catholic baptisms, but the Catholic church did not always accept theirs," said the Rev. Tom Weinandy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
The document clarifies, "For our baptisms to be mutually recognized, water and the scriptural Trinitarian formula 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit' (Matthew 28: 19-20) must be used in the baptismal rite." The agreement affirms that baptism is the sacramental gateway into the Christian life and that it only needs to be conferred once. The denominations have likewise agreed to keep standard baptism records.
For many years, Martha Moore-Keish, Associate Professor of Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary, was one of two representatives sent by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to participate in the ecumenical discussion. "Over time, we examined our common heritage, the divergences of the 16th century, and the ways in which recent ecumenical liturgical renewal has brought our celebrations of baptism more closely together," said Moore-Keish.
"This is truly a historic moment, and one to be celebrated," said Steve Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary. "We are so thankful for the work done by this gathering. This is hopefully just the beginning of a growing movement which celebrates a larger Table where all are welcome."
Columbia Theological Seminary, located in Decatur, Georgia, was established in 1828 and is one of 10 theological institutions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Note: A copy of the full document is available at http://oga.pcusa.org/section/departments/ecumenical-relations/