Black Theologian Day Speaker Honors His Mentor, the Late Bishop James S. Thomas

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Black Theologian Day

By Rick Wolcott*

“Black Theologian Day is special because it sets apart a time to reflect and engage.”

The Rev. Dr. Howard Pippin, Jr. welcomed to Aldersgate United Methodist Church (North Coast District) attendees of Black Theologian Day. His devotion for the morning was rooted in the third chapter of Exodus – Moses and the burning bush.

“The burning bush and Black Theologian Day are about an encounter with God. Who doesn’t want an encounter with God every day?”

Pippin, Jr. and Bishop John Hopkins, during his introduction of keynote speaker the Rev. Dr. William “Bobby” McClain, each noted that times have changed since Bishop James S. Thomas held the first Black Theologian Day in East Ohio.

“Bishop Thomas was my mentor, my hero and my friend,” said McClain. “I received my local pastor’s license when I was 15 years old and I pastored two churches in Alabama while I was in high school. Bishop Thomas took me under his wing.”

McClain worked for civil rights alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He pastored churches in Alabama, Philadelphia and Boston, taught at Boston College, Harvard University, Northeastern University and Emerson College. For the past 30 years he has been on the faculty at Wesley Theological Seminary.

His message on Black Theologian Day was titled “African American Presence in United Methodism – A Critical Challenge or an Open Opportunity?”

“There has been no Methodist church in America that did not have black people in it from the beginning.” McClain said prior to citing examples of individuals who pioneered the way for those gathered listening to him.

“Our churches split over race before the nation did. You had a broken church before a broken nation – but the nation came back together,” McClain said.

He told the crowd of 60 that aging membership, decreasing worship attendance and the struggle to reach younger people are not issues for just The United Methodist Church but for all Protestant denominations. The difference, McClain believes, is that the inclusiveness of The United Methodist Church could play a key role for the denomination in reversing the decline.

McClain implored attendees to remember the words spoken at the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore by Bishop Thomas, who said, “Lord, lead us now to make new history.”

*Rick Wolcott is director of communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.