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Black United Methodists address lack of youth in church

 


Black United Methodists address lack of youth in church

March 31, 2004

By David Malloy*

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UMNS photo by David Malloy

The Rev. William B. McClain is concerned about the lack of young leaders in the black church.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (UMNS) - Members of the United Methodist Church's black caucus are taking aim at a problem found throughout mainline denominations: the absence of young people in the pews.

African-American young people often bemoan that elders will not give them a chance in leadership and that their cultures and perspectives are not respected, so they go to other churches where they feel counted, according to members of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. Young people also say that churches must make more use of visual media and computer technology to attract young people and to enhance worship and other ministries.

The Rev. William B. McClain, professor of preaching at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, voiced concern about the dearth of young leaders in the black church.

"I'm scared," he said, speaking to 500 caucus members at their March 24-27 meeting. "I go around to our churches and find out we have no young people. … We need new and younger leadership not because they are young but because they may have new vision,"

In an effort to bring youth back to black United Methodist churches, the caucus plans to implement a youth and young adult resource center that would help youth teach and empower each other and receive mentoring from adults.

Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the denomination's official black caucus, was organized in 1968 as a forum to define issues and develop strategies for change within the United Methodist Church. It aims to empower black Methodists for effective witness and service; involve them in the struggle for economic justice; and expose racism at all levels of the church, its agencies and related institutions.

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UMNS photo by David Malloy

Black Methodists for Church Renewal gather during opening worship service.

During their meeting, the members were encouraged to remember those African Americans who went to Cincinnati in 1968 to form the caucus. They were also reminded that blacks have been part of American Methodism since the movement began.

"We came as Negroes and four days later left black," McClain recalled of the 1968 meeting. "More than half of the original board of directors are gone. … They died without receiving the promise," he said.

The Rev. Vincent Harris, caucus chairperson and pastor of Riverside United Methodist Church in Houston, told the more than 500 black Methodists in attendance that the black family, the black faith and the black community must be restored, renewed and regenerated by "whatever means necessary."

"We are Methodist theologically and understand the Wesleyan evangelist call to invite all to receive salvation, to convince all of Christ love, and to share in fellowship and outreach," he said. "We are the preaching Methodists, we are the singing Methodists, we are the praying Methodists, we are the shouting Methodists. … We are the renewal, the revival, the rekindling that fueled the journey of hope yesterday, that fuels the hope today and fuels the hope for tomorrow."

Harris ended his keynote address with a call for support in securing an executive director to oversee the caucus' programs and projects, to develop vital ministry for black churches, to support clergy and lay leadership in black churches, and to sustain support for an African American Heritage Center, the Strengthening the Black Church initiative, Africa University and the Black College Fund.

With the theme of "Journey of Hope: The State of the Black Church," participants from across the United States explored the symbolic and literal journey of black Methodists in the church and society.

At services of remembrance and Holy Communion, Bishop Alfred Johnson of the New Jersey Area urged that the caucus continue to "speak the prophetic truth in love" as an agent of justice and change.

"The church can be renewed, but it will not be renewed if you separate the gospel from social action," Johnson said. "I pray to God that we never lose our edge. God has done something through our suffering - not for us to wallow in, not for us to trump others who are suffering, but for us to take our sufferings and free the whole world."

The Rev. Cain Hope Felder, who served as the caucus' first national director, urged the organization to keep a "vigil by the bedside of a sick world."

"Our vigil cannot be a passive one, waiting for others to do the right thing," he said. "It must include renewed prophetic injections for the patient, a patient in danger of losing its very soul." Felder is professor of New Testament Language & Literature and editor of The Journal of Religious Thought at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington.

In business sessions, caucus members:

  • Gave the David L. White awards for clergy and laity to the Rev. William H. Robinson Jr. and Marilyn Magee Talbert. The award recognizes White, a leader in training laity for 20 years. A special award was also given to honor John Cummings Eversly, who has not missed an annual meeting since the caucus' 1968 beginning.
  • Celebrated the naming of Bishop Melvin Talbert as interim executive director.
  • Heard a presentation about DestinationRx, the United Methodist Association's health card, making a discount drug benefit available to all 8.3 million of the church's U.S. members.
  • Received an update from the United Methodist Foundation for Higher Education's work toward increasing the endowment of the 11 historically black colleges related to the church.
  • Received an update on the restoration project at historic Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss.
  • Agreed to support "The Central Jurisdiction Reunion," an event set for Aug. 27-29 in College Park, Ga., paying tribute to those who were a part of the segregated jurisdiction up to 1968, when it was dissolved with the formation of the United Methodist Church.

*Malloy is the coordinator of communications for the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.  News media can contact Linda Green at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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