Leaders representing the Roman Catholic Church and some American Protestant denominations have signed an agreement in Texas to recognize each other's baptisms.
After about six years of dialogue, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and the United Church of Christ signed a document recognizing each other's liturgical rites of baptism.
The five denominations signed the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism," affirming the baptism agreement on Tuesday evening at a prayer service held at St. Mary's Cathedral in Austin.
"Together we affirm that, by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13 and 27; Ephesians 1:22-23), the church. Baptism establishes the bond of unity existing among all who are part of Christ's body and is therefore the sacramental basis for our efforts to move towards visible unity," reads the document.
"We rejoice at the common faith we share and affirm in this document. We understand that the journey toward full, visible unity depends on openness to the grace of God and humility before the initiatives of God's Spirit among us."
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for USCCB, told The Christian Post about the lengthy background that the baptism agreement was part of.
"The Common Agreement, ratified by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Nov. 16, 2010, and publicly signed and celebrated January 29, 2013, was the result of six years of study and consultation by Catholic and Reformed scholars during the seventh round of the Catholic-Reformed Dialogue in the USA," said Walsh.
"The dialogue has been co-sponsored since 1965 by the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs along with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ."
The Austin celebration and preceding dialogue were coordinated through The Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., an organization formed in 2001 that focuses on interdenominational Christian unity, witness and fellowship.
The Rev. John Crossin, executive director for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at USCCB, commented to CP that he hoped the baptism agreement "would be a model for other similar agreements."
"One of the reasons to have this public celebration hosted by CCT was that all the member churches became aware of the baptism agreement," said Crossin.
"Many more people are now aware of this. A copy of the agreement was handed out to the more than 35 member churches. The implication is that maybe some of them will say, 'Maybe we'll do this too.'"
Clergy involved in the agreement ceremony held in Austin told local media about their feelings regarding the baptism recognition.
Ruben Armendariz, a PC(USA) associate presbyter, told the Austin American-Statesman that "it's a historic moment" and "we're very much in concert with it."
"This ecumenical effort, this mutual recognition of baptism, is part of our response to Jesus' prayer that 'we may all be one,'" said Bishop Joe Vásquez of the Catholic Diocese of Austin to the Statesman.