News Archives

Ebony bishops convene summit on black church

11/12/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This report is accompanied by photos and a sidebar, UMNS story #549.

By John W. Coleman Jr.*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Trudie Kibbe Reed gives the keynote address during a first-ever summit of African-American United Methodist leaders in Washington. “The major problem with black people and the black church today is not racism but ‘us-ism’ ... and our oppression of each other,” said Reed. Reed is president of Philander-Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., a historically black United Methodist college. A UMNS photo by John W. Coleman Jr. Photo number 03-444, Accompanies UMNS #548, 11/12/03


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Herbert Brisbon (center) and a group of youth and young adults talk about issues facing young people during a first-ever summit of African-American United Methodist leaders in Washington. Brisbon is a Wesley Seminary student and member of Covenant Point United Methodist Church in Waldorf, Md. A UMNS photo by John W. Coleman Jr. Photo number 03-446, Accompanies UMNS #548, 11/12/03


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Music from the Summit of African-American United Methodist leaders, Photo number W03093, Accompanies UMNS #548


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow leads a song at the opening worship service of the Summit of African-American United Methodist leaders. Photo number W03092, Accompanies UMNS #548


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo number W03094, Accompanies UMNS #548


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Bishop Felton Edwin May gives the opening address during a first-ever summit of African-American United Methodist leaders in Washington. “We are not well in this denomination,” May, leader of the church’s Washington Area, said. The host bishop called for a renaissance of the black church. Two days later, he closed the gathering with an impassioned prayer that departing attendees would use their new insights and convictions in strategic action. A UMNS photo by John W. Coleman Jr. Photo number 03-445, Accompanies UMNS #548, 11/12/03


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo number W03095, Accompanies UMNS #548
WASHINGTON (UMNS) - Three hundred African-American United Methodist leaders discussed common challenges and ideas for strengthening the ministries of black churches during a first-ever summit Nov. 7-9.

"We are not well in this denomination," said Bishop Felton Edwin May, leader of the church's Washington Area, in an opening address at Asbury United Methodist Church. The host bishop called for a renaissance of the black church. Two days later, he closed the gathering with an impassioned prayer that departing attendees would use their new insights and convictions in strategic action.

Thirteen of the denomination's 24 active and retired African-American bishops, known collectively as the Ebony Bishops Network, convened the summit following the United Methodist Council of Bishops' fall meeting in Washington. At a retreat earlier this year the network had examined the "seriously fractured state of the black church on all levels, as well as our diminishing presence and effectiveness in fulfilling the needs of the black community," according to the invitation letter from the group's chairman, Bishop Rhymes Moncure of the Nebraska Area.

"From Oppression to Liberation: Responding to God's Call for the Black Church" was the theme of the gathering, the first Summit on the State of the Black Church held by the bishops.

Participants addressed the black church's role in responding to myriad problems in the black community, including rampant violence, HIV/AIDS infection, homelessness, incarceration, teen pregnancy and school dropout rates. They also wrestled with obstacles to church growth and vitality, the alarming absence of young people in black congregations, and the difficulties many black leaders reportedly face in advocating for the concerns of black people in their denomination.

Participants included pastors and laity from churches of all sizes, and leaders from annual conferences and general church agencies. While white racism was named among the challenges they face, it received scant attention. The summit's clear focus was on the black church's own shortcomings and its potential to reclaim its historic role to spiritually and socially support and uplift the black community.

"The major problem with black people and the black church today is not racism but 'us-ism' ... and our oppression of each other," said Trudie Kibbe Reed, program facilitator and keynote speaker for the summit. Reed is president of Philander-Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., a United Methodist historically black college.

"We are out of alignment with God and with each other," she explained. "It comes from a broken covenant with God and with our ancestors who paved the way for us …"

Despite social and economic gains achieved by many African Americans since the civil rights era, Reed cited consequences of the broken covenant with God, including infighting in black churches and institutions, failure to pass on positive aspects of black heritage and culture, and lack of support for black churches, organizations and businesses.

She denounced jealousy, misuse of power, materialism and the prevalence of dehumanizing language and behaviors in the black community as "dysfunctions ... adapted from our oppressors."

"We must confess and repent of our sins, our broken covenant and disobedience," Reed said. She called for black churches to "take action to become transformed people of God."

Subsequent sermons by the Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of St. Luke's "Community" United Methodist Church in Dallas, and the Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatem, director of Metropolitan Ministries in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, stressed God's help as essential to the black church's prospects for transformation and triumph over its challenges.

"I see the exodus of young people from (our) churches," Gordon said. "It's not that they're not coming to church. They're just not coming to ours." As others at the summit, he complained of a widespread lack of vitality in worship, creativity in doing ministry and sincerity in welcoming non-members into churches.

Gordon challenged black churches to learn more about their communities through research and personal interaction, to reclaim their historic central role in the life and culture of their communities, and to embrace the future and the interests of younger generations by being willing to "make changes in our worship, preaching, music, outreach and evangelism."

In 11 small groups, summit attendees discussed familiar congregational dysfunctions, including apathy, fear of change, excessive conformity to rules and traditions, low self-esteem, confusion, power and role conflicts, enmity between laity and clergy, over-dependence on pastors, lack of youth empowerment and alienation from surrounding communities. They also heard success stories about black United Methodist congregations that are overcoming many of these challenges.

Ideas and recommended solutions included:
· Increasing the teaching of evangelism, discipleship and church administration in churches and seminaries.
· Making more use of visual media and computer technology to attract young people and to enhance worship and other ministries.
· Reclaiming a tradition of mentorship and apprenticeship to help people identify, develop and use their spiritual gifts in service to church and community.
· Intentionally building more relationships between congregations and their communities through shared activities, dialogues and experiences.

"We must be on the edge where our black culture is going, not behind it," said Bishop Alfred Johnson of the Greater New Jersey Area. He and his episcopal colleagues expressed some of their own concerns and promised to consider and respond to many of the ideas presented.

The bishops encouraged participants to value and teach the heritage of the black church, to identify and employ all the resources for ministry available to them, to study and use the church's Book of Discipline to their advantage, and to measure vitality not in the survival or size of their congregations but in the quality of their discipleship and the growth of their ministries.

Reed and the Ebony Bishops Network plan to develop a study guide for churches in early 2004 with video excerpts and information from the summit. In the meantime, nearly a dozen attendees agreed to form a national initiative among their churches to minister to homeless and displaced people in their communities.

# # #

*Coleman is the co-director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

Back : News Archives 2003 Main


Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add InfoServ@umcom.org to your list of approved senders.