By Rick Wolcott*
In 1982 Bishop James S. Thomas convened the first Black Clergy Retreat in East Ohio. Bishop Gregory Palmer of the West Ohio Conference was a pastor in East Ohio at the time and attended the retreat at Mohican Lodge and Conference Center in Perrysville.
“He had in mind the care of all the pastors of the conference. His heart was both excited and heavy at times about what it meant for African-American pastors to sometimes be in a large sea that wasn’t African-American,” Bishop Palmer said.
“So he was committed to their nurture and their development – not over and against anybody – but to make sure that they had the nurture and development that they needed and access to certain opportunities in order that they could fully flower into leadership” Bishop Palmer continued. “His endgame was developing a strong cadre of leaders to take their places among all the other leaders in the life of the Annual Conference and the General Church.”
This year clergy from East Ohio were joined by clergy from the West Ohio Conference for the Bishops’ Retreat with Black Clergy. Held the third week of September, the retreat returned to the Mohican Lodge and Conference Center.
Rev. James Roberson of Cory United Methodist Church (North Coast District) attended both retreats. He told those gathered that Bishop Thomas “always had an eye open for leaders and the development of leaders.”
As such, clergy were given a reading assignment to complete prior to arriving at the retreat. The first year participants read The Meaning of Prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick.
At this year’s retreat, Bishop James King, Jr of the South Georgia Conference was the keynote speaker/workshop facilitator and Dr. Albert Mosley, President/Dean of Gammon Theological Seminary, led a discussion about the challenge and opportunity of increasing young adult participation.
“I was filled with joy working with three colleague bishops and a seminary president to encourage our black spiritual leaders in the service for Jesus Christ and his Church,” said East Ohio Conference Bishop John Hopkins.
During opening worship Bishop King, Jr told participants that he isn’t a doctor but that he knows Dr. Jesus.
“God knows all about you, where you’ve been and what you’ve been through, knows about your circumstances and in light of all of that, Dr. Jesus would have me tell you tonight regardless of where you are in life right now, you can get better.”
He reminded those gathered of the story of a man who held a bird in his hand. In an attempt to trick a wise elder, the man asked the sage if the bird was alive or dead. Knowing that if he said the bird was dead the man would show him it was alive and if he said the bird was alive the man would kill it, the elder replied “it’s in your hands.”
Bishop King, Jr concluded his sermon by telling the clergy, “If the world is going to get better, if the church is going to get better, if you’re going to become more effective – it’s in your hands. If you seriously believe in Jesus and follow Him, it will get better.”
“The Bishops’ Retreat with Black Clergy was filled with worship, preaching, music, testimony, learning and inspiration,” Bishop Hopkins said. “The combination of our spiritual leaders from the entire Ohio area provide more interaction and reflection on the opportunities to reach a younger, more diverse constituency with the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.