2015 Convocation for Pastors of Black Churches

The Justice and Reconciliation Team gave partial scholarships to help 15 clergy to attend the Convocation for Pastors of Black Churches this January. The stated goal of the Convocation was, “resourcing congregations with catalytic tools for rekindling FIRE in worship, pastoral leadership, the congregation and community toward relational, missional and transformational experiences/encounters with Jesus Christ.” Held in Atlanta every two years, and sponsored by the United Methodist Publishing House, this year’s event had more than 450 participants. In addition to great time of connection and inspiration, the participants from our conference learned many valuable lessons that will shape their work in ministry in the days to come.

Many participants cited a new presenter, The Reverend Romal Tune, as particularly noteworthy. Tune is the founder and executive director of Faith for Change, a national non-profit that seeks to connect churches to schools. Stephanie Wilson was struck by Tune’s insight that gangs identify their turf; churches need to identify their turf and reclaim their community. How can you be in a community and not know the people who live near your church? Inspired by Tune, Wilson plans on launching new initiatives in her context such as “summer programs, feeding programs, and ministries that have impacted the community in the past.”  Like Wilson, Jeanette Hayes was inspired by Tune’s message.  She plans to redouble her efforts to get to know her community.  Pamela Blackstock is excited about making new and deeper inroads in her church’s ministries to young people and incarcerated men.

One of the primary themes of the event was pastoral leadership. Bishop Gregory Palmer alerted the attendees to the fact that there are only 60 Black seminarians in the UMC. Rodvegas Ingram was challenged to be more adaptive in his leadership. We need to “be willing to change and adapt as needed to meet our objectives. The message remains the same, but the methods of delivery and outreach much change with the times.”  Donald McCoy was encouraged to continue efforts in his churches which will “make disciples who can make disciples.”

Larry Fitzgerald was reminded “not to be afraid to challenge injustice and social justice issues in the community… The church has been silent on many issues lately, especially the death of young Black men across America.” Emmanuel Yiadom also took encouragement to address issues of injustice in his context by engaging with the Community Policy Advocates of the local NAACP.  Pamela Blackstock was struck by how Kirbyjon Caldwell employed costumes, characters and skits to get across his message about social justice.  Caldwell’s presentation has inspired to be more creative in her church, too.

While everyone valued the Convocation, a few noted some room for improvement. Otto Harris noted that “most of the presenters had contexts of large multi-staff churches in large urban areas.” He wished the “Convocation could consider some other presenters from contexts more closely related to the vast majority of African-American congregations across the denomination.” Emmanuel Yiadom thought a better job could have been done in order to “accomplish the set goals of the Convocation.”

Everyone was committed to not let what they learned in Atlanta stay in Atlanta. In addition to lots of new efforts in their own churches and immediate community, many are anxious to share what they learned with others.  Donald McCoy and Otto Harris are planning to show the video of Romal Tune’s presentation to members, community and the Greensboro Cluster of Churches. Albert Mills says plans are being made to have a Black Convocation in the Catawba Valley District in late fall of 2015.

Everyone may also want to mark their calendars for the inaugural Carolina Black Clergy Leadership Retreat featuring Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.  It will be held from May 19-22, 2015 in Myrtle Beach. The next national Convocation will be in 2017.