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Great Event challenges African-American churches

An ensemble from Luke "Community" United Methodist Church in Dallas dances during worship at the "Great Event," a program of Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century. UMNS photos by Larry Hygh Jr.

By Larry R. Hygh Jr.*
Sept.19, 2008 | DALLAS (UMNS)

As African-American congregations in The United Methodist Church face the future, do they look like the face in the mirror or does the mirror show something else?

Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton leads a plenary session
during the Sept. 11-13
gathering in Dallas.

The question was posed by the Rev. Zan Holmes as he challenged 560 black Methodists to find their voice and power during a church growth and revitalization event.

"It’s important for us to find our own voice, our own God-given purpose," Holmes told participants at the Sept. 11-13 Great Event, a program of the United Methodist initiative called Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.

Created by the church's 1996 General Conference and operated under its Board of Discipleship, the initiative assists United Methodist congregations that are predominantly black to be more effective in mission and ministry. It focuses on spiritual vitality and growth by linking effective congregations with partner congregations searching for new ideas and revitalization. There are 2,400 African-American United Methodist congregations in the United States.

"The essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision," said Michigan Area Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, chairperson of Strengthening the Black Church. "We don’t need any more money; we need more visionary leadership."

Holmes, who is pastor emeritus of Saint Luke "Community" United Methodist Church in Dallas, said churches can be strengthened if members begin using the biblical model found in Acts 1 and 2, where many voices speak the same language to talk about what God has done. "The Pentecostal power did not come until they faced the Pentecostal task," he said, noting that God united unique people that day for a God-given purpose. "They had come to the end of their own strength."

Using the mirror analogy, Holmes said "we come to our churches to get fixed up to resemble who Christians ought to be."

Mentoring for growth and discipleship

Holmes' challenge and the event's theme of "God Delivers Us Through Hope, Healing, and Wholeness" was evident in remarks made by the Rev. Joseph Daniels, pastor of Emory United Methodist Church, Washington D.C.

(From left) The Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver III, Cheryl Walker, the Rev. Zan Wesley
Holmes Jr. and the Rev. Lydia Waters Hamilton sing during worship.

"God needs prophets with a powerful proclamation, not an empty pontification," said Daniels, declaring that self-centeredness must give way to self-sacrifice. "Proclamation needs to be transformational. We need to preach the Gospel not as a popularity contest."

Daniels' church is one of the program's 20 mentor congregations, which range in size from 150 to 9,000 members and hold training sessions in their areas of ministry expertise. During the Great Event, 14 of the initiative's congregational resource center teams mentored 95 partner church teams.

"Each of the congregation resource centers has various gifts they can share with conference churches," said Cheryl Stevenson, national coordinator for the initiative. "Through training, I hope partner churches receive hope, inspiration, encouragement and determination to go forward with the vision the Lord has given the church."

Churches qualify to be partner congregations if they demonstrate a willingness to change and be open and are eager to devote time and resources to making the training process a success. "God has equipped each church with the resources to do ministry," Stevenson said.

Helping others

During the Great Event, participants contributed more than $7,300 for recovery and relief efforts in Haiti, which has been hit by four catastrophic storms in less than a month.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is assisting in relief efforts in Haiti. United Methodists can help in the rebuilding by mailing checks to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, and writing "UMCOR Advance 418325, Haiti Emergency" on the memo line. Online gifts can be made at www.givetomission.org.

*Hygh is director of communications for the California-Pacific Annual Conference and chairperson of the communications committee for Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century

Black Methodists for Church Renewal

Commission on Religion and Race

United Methodist Board of Discipleship

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