The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — along with three other Reformed churches — and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have reached agreement on mutual recognition of each other's baptisms.

The historic Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism, approved by the USCCB this week, marks the first formal ecumenical agreement the U.S. Catholics have entered with any other church.

It comes after seven rounds of Reformed-Roman Catholic dialogue that also includes the Reformed Church in America (RCA), the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC).

"This is a significant moment in ecumenical history," noted the Rev. Robina Winbush, director of the Department of Ecumenical and Agency Relations in the PC(USA)'s Office of the General Assembly. "In the context of so much that divides us and upon which our churches may not agree, we remind ourselves that our fundamental unity begins and is rooted in our baptism."

The baptism agreement was forwarded to the participating churches for action in February 2008. The 217th General Assembly (2008) of the PC(USA) approved the agreement and the presbyteries ratified it. 

Now that the USCCB has approved the Common Agreement, the CRCNA, RCA and UCC will consider it at their General Synods in 2011.

Once all five churches have approved the Common Agreement a worship service of thanksgiving and renewal of our baptismal vows will be held sometime in late 2011.

The Common Agreement is undergirded by a study paper entitled These Living Waters that has been developed by the Reformed-Roman Catholic dialogue. 

The Seventh Round of Reformed Roman Catholic dialogue also completed a study on the Eucharist entitled This Bread of Life.  This report will go to the churches for reception in the spring of 2011. Upon reception, both papers will be published “These Living Waters; This Bread of Life” with study guides for theologians, pastors, and congregants.

The chairs of the dialogue were Richard Mouw of the PC(USA) and the USCCB’s Bishop Patrick Cooney. Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Also representing the PC(USA) is the Rev. Martha Moore-Keish. Winbush has served as (PC(USA) staff to the dialogue.

The heads of communion of the four Reformed partners in the dialogue issued a statement on Nov. 17 expressing "deep gratitude to God" for the USCCB’s approval of the baptism agreement.

Those leaders are the Rev. Gradye Parsons, PC(USA) General Assembly stated clerk; the Rev. Jerry Dykstra, CRCNA executive director; the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, RCA general secretary: and the Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the UCC.