|Convocation inspires pastors to build bridges|
The Rev. Geraldine McClellan addresses nearly 400 participants at the
2009 Convocation for Pastors of African American Churches in Houston.
UMNS photos by Eleanor L. Colvin.
By Eleanor L. Colvin*
Jan. 15, 2009 | HOUSTON (UMNS)
United Methodist pastors of African-American congregations left a
national gathering inspired to turn walls of obstacles sideways and
make them bridges for reclaiming God’s promises.
Civil rights activist Angela Davis, in a 1988 autobiography, defined a
bridge as a wall turned sideways, and that definition helped focus the
2009 Convocation for Pastors of African American Churches.
“Building Bridges Into the Future” was the centering point for the
nearly 400 participants at the convocation, sponsored by the United
Methodist Board of Discipleship. While worship services breathed new
life into their spirits, the daily plenary sessions provided practical
tools for ministry. Focused on such topics as mentoring and technology,
the plenary sessions offered a 21st century tool-kit for millennium
The Rev. Cheryl Jefferson Bell praises God.
The Rev. Zan Holmes of Dallas, one of the church’s most influential
clergy, assured the audience of primarily African-American pastors that
they are prepared to build bridges because “the God that we serve is a
“He goes before us in ministry, building bridges whenever we come face
to face with obstacles, difficulties—both physically and
spiritually—that would keep us from going where God wants us to go,”
Holmes said. “This is the God who calls us to be bridge builders, to
participate and cooperate with God, for this is the God who comes to us
at the beginning of this New Year offering us a brand new future.”
Holmes introduced Davis’ definition of a bridge to the convocation and
said reliance on God would enhance bridge building and strengthen the
pastors’ connections as leaders of black churches.
“Here is a God who makes it God’s business to turn every wall that we
confront sideways, that we might cross over into the brand new future
that God is always offering us,” Holmes said.
‘Receive the promise’
The first step in building bridges for the future is to “Receive the
Promise,” said the Rev. Geraldine McClellan, pastor of Mount Pleasant
United Methodist Church, Gainesville, Fla.
“If we’re going to build bridges, we’ve got to receive the promise,”
McClellan said. “We don’t have time to ‘think about’ receiving the
promise. … You have mourned long enough, you have moped long enough,
you have done nothing long enough, so arise and claim the promised
Recalling the prophet Joshua’s challenge, McClellan said crossing the
Jordan River was a declaration of war against the seven nations that
occupied Canaan. She warned that claiming the promise would not always
be easy, since many ministry settings are “occupied territory” with
“everybody in control but God.”
“(Israel) didn’t do it in one day—it took 14 years,” she said. “Don’t
throw in the towel when things don’t happen when you want them to. …
When you find yourself fighting, you know you’re on the way out of the
wilderness.” She sent the pastors forth on Jan. 9 with “God’s battle
The Rev. Vance Ross is an executive of the United Methodist Board of
Discipleship, which sponsored the Jan. 6-9 event.
Started in 1999 as a one-time event, the 2009 Convocation for Pastors
of Black Churches was the sixth event. “It’s revival!” said the Rev.
Donald E. McCoy, pastor of Faith-St. Paul United Methodist Church,
Mooresville, N.C. “It’s just revival, and we need it.”
The Rev. Vance Ross, a staff executive of the Board of Discipleship,
said this year’s biennial event was about both revival and renewal. The
convocation’s bridge-building theme not only connected men and women
across annual conference and local church boundaries, but it also
connected people across generations and class lines, he said.
“It was an opportunity to be in close proximity with those with the
same hurts and those who have overcome those hurts to move into
significant ministry and help people see revival for their personal and
ministerial lives,” Ross said.
Move out in faith
Plenary leaders included the host pastor, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell
of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, discussing
building bridges; the Rev. Rodney Smothers of St. Paul United Methodist
Church, Oxen Hill, Md., on mentoring; and a team presentation on using
technology in worship by the Rev. Sherry Daniels of the Norfolk Charge
in Chesapeake, Va., and the Rev. Olu Brown of Impact Church, Atlanta.
Bishop Violet Fisher, retired, Wilmington, Del., kicked off the
convocation by telling the pastors that they are “Standing on the Edge
of Possibility.” She urged them to “put their foot” on the promises of
“We are the Joshua generation!” Fisher said. “It’s not enough to sing, ‘Standing on the Promises’ and not move out in faith.”
The Rev. Sonnye Dixon of Hobson United Methodist Church in Nashville,
Tenn., and Rev. Junius Dotson of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church,
Wichita, Kan., also preached to the gathering.
The messages encouraged the pastors, including the Rev. Provey Powell
Jr., of Cokesbury United Methodist Church, Port Deposit, Md., to stay
the course that God has set.
“Attending this event reaffirmed what God had done in my church a year
ago,” Powell said, referring to the congregation’s newly adopted
vision. “I’m going back home with the confidence and assurance that we
are the bridges to heal the challenges of our community. And now, I’m
going back to claim the promise.”
*Colvin is the director of communications for the Texas Annual Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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