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Black Methodist caucus certifies young lay speakers

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A participant at Youth Harambee uses drama to create a worship experience.

Aug. 1, 2006

By Larry R. Hygh, Jr.*

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS) --Ninety youth, ages 12 to 18, recently left Philander Smith College trained as lay speakers in the United Methodist Church.

The youth, representing the five United Methodist jurisdictions in the United States, gathered for Black Methodists for Church Renewal’s National Youth Harambee to focus on various areas of leadership. The theme for the July 12-16 event was “Wha’ cha’ gone’ do?lead or follow?” based on Judges 4:8.

The word harambee is South African, meaning “let’s come together.” The event was intended to be a celebration of the gifts, talents, and willing hearts of ethnic United Methodist youth. The youth took the basic course for lay speaking and began a process toward certification.

“It is historic in that it is the first such event focused on training young people to become lay speakers,” said Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, executive director for Black Methodists for Church Renewal. “It is significant in that the end result will be completing the first steps in becoming effective and resourceful leaders in local congregations and in other places in the connection.”

A certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church conducts worship services, preaches and leads study sessions as requested by local church pastors or by the district superintendent.

During harambee, the youth developed their spiritual, leadership and interpersonal skills and participated in classroom instruction, a social justice outing, and worked in mission areas surrounding the historically-black Philander Smith College.

“God definitely had his way. It was not only a learning experience; it was also a spiritual experience,” said Nicole Luebrun, a young adult college leader. “I have grown so much from the few days that I was there and I now realize that I do have a calling and purpose for my life.”

Jamila McKenzie, a 14-year old youth from Jerusalem United Methodist Church in Laurinburg, N.C., added, “I learned that I have a voice and people won’t know what I have to say until I say something, and they might be willing to help me get it done.”

As well as taking lay speaking courses, the youth created their own worship experiences with music, drama, and prayer, and held a talent show and game night.

Bible studies for the event used spoken word, poetry and rap about black historical figures and collective art posters. The group also toured the President William J. Clinton Library and Museum.

*Hygh is director of communications for the denomination’s California-Pacific Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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