Black Theologian Day 2017

Day of Learning Confronts Fears in the Church

By Rick Wolcott*

“The purpose of Black Theologian Day is to be a day of learning and engagement of theological and practical insights regarding issues and challenges that are facing the church and society from a black theological perspective and experience. A perspective and experience that is often minimized and neglected in a dominant culture,” Bishop Tracy S. Malone told those gathered for the event at Aldersgate UMC in Warrensville Heights.  “Today’s learnings, insights and perspectives will resource and equip all pastors and churches across the conference and strengthen our witness in the world, because we know that perspective matters.”

The late Bishop James S. Thomas conceived of Black Theologian Day during the first of his three quadrennia as resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference, with the inaugural annual event held in 1978.

“I think it’s important because our understanding is deepened by the perspective of people who experience the world in different ways. I’m here to learn more because it’s not my perspective,” said the Rev. Paige Boyer of Lake Shore UMC in Avon Lake and Cove UMC in Lakewood.

“Today is not just for black people, it’s for the entire Church. It helps the Church understand what black folk preach about, what we care about, what issues we dialogue with God about on a day-to-day basis.  I think unless the greater Church knows that, we’re not able to engage each other in serious, productive dialogue,” said the Rev. Dogba Bass of Aldersgate UMC.

“Black Theologian Day is important because it celebrates a part of the diversity of the church and connects us with each other and brings people together around conversation that might sometime be uncomfortable around race, and ethnicity, and culture, and differences,” said the Rev. Kathy Dickriede, conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) coordinator.

The theme for Black Theologian Day 2017 was Overcoming Fear.

“We are in a fear-filled age. We’ve got threats of nuclear war, overpopulation, food shortage, global warming, police brutality, the strong and growing visibility of white nationalism and supremacy, and the erosion of healthcare for all,” said keynote speaker Erin Hawkins, general secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR).

“We serve churches that are filled with fear: fear of their neighbors, fear of doing a new thing, fear of being closed, fear of the future, fear of letting young people in, fear of letting homeless people in, fear of anyone who’s not like me – filled with fear. Denominationally we are in a time of fear.  We are afraid of schism and what that might mean.  We are afraid of how ethnic churches might fare if there is a schism in the Church.  We’re afraid of the shrinking presence of our church in communities where we could be doing lots of good.  We’re afraid,” Hawkins concluded.

She explained that GCORR works to confront fear through intercultural competency, institutional equity, and vital conversations. Her morning address focused on the theological foundation for overcoming fear and in the afternoon, she presented practical applications leaders can implement for overcoming fear.

“Thanks be to God for fear rhetoric that makes that which was out of sight in plain sight,” she stated. “When we allow the fear to be so immense that it stops us, that it keeps us from moving and stepping out, when we become paralyzed by fear, we lose the blessing in it.  But if we can see the fear as opportunity, then we have taken the first step toward overcoming it.”

Throughout the day, Hawkins referenced the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans and the passage from chapter 8 verse 23 in which he wrote, “As with all creation, we, too, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption and redemption of our bodies.”

She explained that groaning is the deep, inward response to suffering, and that groaning is a universal language.

“Groaning in the Spirit is a well-known feature in the Black Church experience. When the suffering felt too heavy to bear and the words to a prayer got stuck in our throats, we know that we could simply moan.  We could groan in the Spirit a prayer that was devoid of words but filled with every necessary physical, spiritual, immense and emotional detail that was required to usher us into the presence of the One who could take the groaning away.”

Hawkins cited the correlation between the communal groaning of recent protests taking place across the country and findings from the Center for Leadership at Wesley Seminary. The study found that the longer a United Methodist congregation is in it’s community, the less it knows about its neighbors; and that at every level of the Church United Methodists are more skilled at reaching people who are like them than they are at reaching anybody else.

“We have significant room to grow as the Church. The disconnection between too many of our congregations and their surrounding communities means that we are not acting in response to the groaning that is all around us,” Hawkins said.  “If the groaning, if the Spirit is not moving us to change our hearts and to do something different, then we are just complaining.  It is our role to take the hands of those who are around us and to join them in the world where a difference can be made.”

“I live in a community where everyone is the same so they think we have no multicultural problems,” said the Rev. Vern Shepherd of Lakeside UMC. “I came to Black Theologian Day so I can bring awareness to our community that just because we all look the same doesn’t mean we have to stay that way.”

“I think it’s important in all places and at all times to have an opportunity to ensure our theology, our understanding of church, our understanding of faith is growing, and that it is inclusive of various opinions, various places, various ethnic groups, genres and races,” said the Rev. Gregory Kendrick, Jr., Church of the Saviour associate pastor. “So this day helps us to ensure that we are living into a gospel that is fully inclusive and fully involved of all persons.”

“We often talk about the importance of distinctive Wesleyan emphases and theology but I think it’s also important to lift up distinctively black Wesleyan emphases and theology,” said Church of the Saviour Senior Pastor the Rev. Andy Call. “As much as this day is important for encouraging black clergy and development of black leadership in the Church, it’s really important for all of us to recognize, to have a broader perspective, and to hear and be mindful of the perspectives of others.  So I’m grateful to be here because this isn’t an event for just black clergy it’s an event for everybody so we can start to look more like the kingdom of God.”

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



Retreat Focuses on Clergy Well-being: “How is it with your soul?”

By Rick Wolcott*

“We cannot be as effective and as fruitful in our well doing in ministry, if we are not intentional in caring for our personal well-being.  We’re talking about emotional, we’re talking about physical, and we’re talking about spiritual,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone in her sermon during the opening worship service of the Bishops’ Retreat with Black Clergy.

Live Well was the theme for this year’s annual event of spiritual renewal, shared learning, and fellowship for clergy from the East Ohio and West Ohio Conferences.

“This means a lot to me,” said the Rev. Oliver Campbell, Jr of Centenary UMC in Akron.  “Bishop Malone asking us, ‘How is it with your soul?’ takes my focus off of short-term personal problems and makes me think about my well-being long term.”

“The retreat is a time of being together with colleagues of color, receiving training, and being refreshed in God,” said the Rev. Monique Greenfield of St. Matthew UMC in Cleveland.

Featured speaker Daniel Houston, who facilitates management and staff diversity training across the United States and around the world, led two Live Well learning sessions during the retreat at Salt Fork State Park Lodge and Conference Center.

“It’s a wonderful time of centering and experiencing a renewed spirit.  It’s also a wonderful time of being welcomed into a community that shares a journey together, and finding our common ground in Jesus  Christ,” said North Coast District Superintendent the Rev. Dr. Steve Bailey.  “I look forward to this every year, and I am privileged to be here.”

“The Church has to lead the way in promoting understanding of why we need to highlight and learn other perspectives than the majority perspective.  So the Bishops’ Retreat with Black Clergy is really about bringing special attention to the needs of the black church in East Ohio and West Ohio,” said Will Jones, director of Multicultural Vitality in the East Ohio Conference.  “As we learn about our intercultural competence, and if we’re trying to grow in that ability, then there need to be special events like this to encourage and promote the non-dominant culture group.”

“For me, it’s a sense of connection that now goes back now 35 years to the very first retreat, which was organized by Bishop James S. Thomas,” said Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the West Ohio Conference.  “It’s a sense of connection to history for something that is timeless, which is the care of the soul.”

“I look forward to this time because I get to connect with the clergy and worship together, and even though I’m here leading, I’m also here to receive because I’m renewed through the worship and the learnings that take place,” Malone said.

“This retreat is a time to be with the bishops and allow the bishops to be with us.  It’s a time of great joy and I look forward to it every year.  It’s one of the highlights for me,” said the Rev. Marilyn Coney of Tiffin Faith UMC.

Planning is underway for the 2018 Bishops’ Retreat with Black Clergy to be held September 23-25 at Mohican Lodge and Conference Center in Perrysville.

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

The Journey Continues … Don’t Stop Now!

By Rick Wolcott*

The goal of Black Clergy Women of The United Methodist Church (BCWUMC) is to “identify, develop, support, and enhance opportunities for the inclusion and empowerment of black clergy women at all levels of The United Methodist Church.”

Black Clergy Women of The United Methodist Church reception
Black Clergy Women of The United Methodist Church reception

This year’s 28th annual gathering of members was a celebration of the historic elections of four black clergy women to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church.

Honored in Cincinnati, Ohio during the August 7-10 The Journey Continues …Don’t Stop Now! meeting were:

“When it was announced at the national meeting in Florida (in 2014) that there were no black clergy women elected to the episcopacy, the administration of national Black Clergy Women were very intentional and said, ‘we are going to put forth two representatives from each jurisdiction.’  It took intentionality to get the respect that we deserve as black clergy.  We thank and praise God, that God was faithful to us as we were trying to be faithful to him,” said the Rev. Waverly Earley, of Wesley UMC in the West Ohio Conference, during the opening night reception.

“The elections mean that the glass ceiling is constantly being shaken, and even shattered, over and over again, and I think that is so very important because it says to younger people, younger women in ministry, ‘we can do this,’” said BCWUMC President the Rev. Telley Lynette Gadson.

“Our time under God is now to pay it forward and, indeed, to continue the journey,” said the Rev. Jocelyn Roper, superintendent of the Miami Valley District in the West Ohio Conference.  “We also encourage those new sisters, and new brothers, who are trying to find their way to the way, to get on the way, and stay on the way, the way that is love, peace, joy, grace and mercy.”

Rev. Yvette Massey presents a gift to Bishop Sharma Lewis
Rev. Yvette Massey (right) presents a gift to Bishop Sharma Lewis

In presenting Bishop Sharma Lewis of the Virginia Conference, BCWUMC Vice President the Rev. Yvette D. Massey explained that each bishop would receive “a time piece inscribed with the words ‘in thanksgiving for your historic election to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church on (date), we celebrate you, your gifts, your graces, and your ministry.  To God be the glory,’ and because you all are so valuable, a string of three-strand pearls.”

In accepting her gifts, Lewis said, “I am actually supposed to be on renewal leave but I knew, honestly, that I had to be here because if it wasn’t for the sisters, I wouldn’t have been elected.  So the only thing I can say is ‘thank you,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘thank you.’”

Bishop Linda Lee accepted a gift on behalf of Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi from the Rev. Telley Lynette Gadson
Bishop Linda Lee accepted a gift on behalf of Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi from the Rev. Telley Lynette Gadson

Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Western Pennsylvania Conference was unable to be present for the gathering but in a video greeting thanked the members of the Black Clergy Women of The United Methodist Church for their recognition and encouraged them in their ministry.

Bishop Tracy S. Malone receives a string of pearls from the Rev. Danita Anderson
Bishop Tracy S. Malone receives a string of pearls from the Rev. Danita Anderson

“I consider it a privilege, and an honor, and a gift, and a sacred trust to serve as an episcopal leader in The United Methodist Church,” Bishop Tracy S. Malone of the East Ohio Conference told those gathered.  “The Black Church, the BMCR, the Black Clergy Women, you have formed me since I was a young woman, and I continue to be formed by your love, by your hospitality, and by your generosity toward me.  So thank you for your prayers, thank you for your support, and I solicit your ongoing support and prayers as I seek to be faithful to what God has called me, and is calling me, to do on his behalf and on all of our behalf as we continue to journey together.”

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling receives a gift from the Rev. Dr. Gennifer Brooks
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling (left) receives a gift from the Rev. Dr. Gennifer Brooks

“You have no idea what it means to me to stand before you in this way,”said Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.  “Truly, truly, my only desire is to serve God, serve God’s people, and to further the kingdom of God, and I do it humbly, I do it humbly, only wanting for God to get the glory.  Thank you for every prayer, thank you for every text, thank you for every phone call, and, as my sisters have said, continue to pray for us because this is a precarious, peculiar time to be a bishop in The United Methodist Church.  It takes all of our courage to be able to lead at such a time as this.  So please continue to pray for us as we serve you.”

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