BEIRUT, Lebanon--A newly elected European Baptist leader plans to move Baptists to the center of Europe—both geographically and influentially.
Mosque under construction in west Beirut. Tony Peck, the new head of the European Baptist Federation, would like to see Baptists become more visible in Europe and the Middle East.
"So often European Baptist church buildings, for understandable historical reasons, are tucked away in back streets," said Tony Peck, the new general secretary for the European Baptist Federation. "I want to see European Baptists coming out into the marketplace and making their contribution to a Christian witness to secular Europe, and especially to the European institutions."
"I hope that European Baptists are taking a more prominent role [in five years] with other Christians in addressing some of the crucial issues and challenges facing Europe and the Middle East and making the Christian voice effectively heard," Peck told EthicsDaily.com.
One such issue, Peck said, is "the increasing problem of human trafficking across Europe." The EBF plans to address sex-slavery with a special consultation, he noted.
Before Peck begins to lead the federation to address a host of issues, he must first move the organization's offices. The EBF will relocate from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Prague, Czech Republic, where it will be housed at the International Baptist Theological Seminary.
Then, Peck said he must begin building a "new EBF leadership team to take us forward into the future."
Founded in 1949 to help rebuild the Baptist community following World War II, the EBF now comprises 52 member unions and conventions with almost a million members.
"The biggest challenge is keeping the sense of family across a geographical area which goes from Lisbon in the West to Vladivostok [Russia] in the East, and from the very north of Scandinavia down to Egypt in the Middle East," said Peck.
"Like all families we embrace diversity but we find our unity in Jesus Christ and in his call to witness to very nation," he said.
At least one European Baptist body rejects Peck's concept of unity with diversity, however. The Romanian Baptist Union's president supported the Southern Baptist Convention's decision this summer to defund and withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance, saying that Romanian Baptists opposed the appointment of a Swedish woman to EBF's presidency.
Despite this criticism, Peck said "there are some significant Romanian Baptists who want to work more closely with us."
The future role of the SBC in Europe represents another challenge for Peck.
The SBC report recommending the defunding of the BWA decried an "anti-American tone" at BWA meetings and the prominence of "Europeans." It also referred to the aberrant theology of a German Baptist theologian.
Such accusations and the SBC's withdrawal from the BWA left many to speculate about future involvement with the EBF by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
"Personally I hope that the SBC withdrawing from the BWA will not necessarily mean that our mission partnership in Europe and the Middle East will come to an end," said Peck. "As general secretary I plan to go on inviting the IMB Europe personnel to be part of the life of the EBF and to be mission partners with us wherever possible."
Peck, who first studied music in London and taught music for four years in British high schools, told EthicsDaily.com that he experienced a call to ministry in 1981. He graduated from Regent's Park College and Oxford University in 1984.
His first ministry assignment was working with churches ministering to Muslim migrants from Pakistan. He later served as general secretary for the Yorkshire Baptist Association, which had 120 churches.
At Bristol Baptist College, Peck was director for pastoral studies. He also served as an associate minister at Westbury Baptist Church.
One of his initiatives at the college was creating a center for the advancement of religious freedom named after Thomas Helwys, an early Baptist who in 1612 pleaded for the religious liberty of all, including "heretics, Turks, Jews or whatsoever."
"I believe that a concern for religious freedom is a precious gift which Baptists have held for the whole church since their beginnings 400 years ago," Peck said. "It is rooted in our lofty conception of the lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of our lives, and that no individual or government can prescribe the religious life of its people, nor seek to restrict their right to worship freely."
In addition to religious freedom, which was also a strong emphasis of his predecessor, Theo Angelov, Peck said he wants to continue supporting indigenous missionaries, building a united "Baptist family in Europe and the Middle East" and developing young leaders.
For the next four years, Peck will commute between his home in Bristol and his office in Prague, while the youngest of his three children finishes school. His wife of 26 years, Alison, works as a speech and language therapist with severely mentally disabled children.
Peck was inaugurated as the general secretary on Sunday at the annual EBF council meeting.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.