Promoting the Understanding of a Black Theological Perspective

Black Theologian Day is October 14

By Will Jones*

Bishop James S. Thomas,
The late Bishop James S. Thomas, A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The late Bishop James S. Thomas initiated the first Black Theologian Day, during his time as episcopal leader of the East Ohio Conference, to promote the understanding of a Black theological perspective to a primarily Caucasian denomination in the United States.

All East Ohio Conference clergy and laity are invited to dive deeper into their faith and broaden their understanding by participating in Black Theologian Day 2017, to be held at Aldersgate UMC (North Coast District) in Warrensville Heights on October 14.  This year’s theme is Overcoming Fear, based on Romans 8:31.

“One of the main hindrances to doing ministry is fear.  It paralyzes us.  We have to remember as clergy and lay that if God if for us, who can be against us,” said EOC Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Steve Court.

Ms. Erin Hawkins
Ms. Erin Hawkins, General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race

Erin Hawkins the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race is this year’s guest scholar.  She is dedicated to building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and reach more people, younger people, and a more diverse people by providing practical resources and support to leaders throughout the Church to help them engage and embrace the cultural diversity present in our congregations and communities.

The ministry model of the Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) helps our conference to have vital conversations with people different than us and to deepen our ability to be culturally competent.  Black Theologian Day is an opportunity for that to happen.

The Rev. Darlene Robinson of Willard First UMC (Firelands District) has participated in several past Black Theologian Days and encourages all clergy and laity in East Ohio to attend this year’s event.

“A lively, Spirit-filled and energized time of worship will be had in the midst of an informed theological presentation, informative teaching and an opportunity for great dialogue,” she said.  “One gets to see, hear, and dialogue with an African-American scholar that one may have not known about or may never get an opportunity to see in person.”

Cost is $15 and online registration is required to attend.  Register here.

 *Will Jones is director of Multicultural Vitality for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Rick Wolcott*

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not a day off it is a day on. We have amazing work to do and today is a day to switch-on our attitudes about what needs to be done,” the Rev. Dogba R. Bass told those gathered for the Inaugural Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Observance at Aldersgate United Methodist Church (North Coast District) in Warrensville Heights.

“When I remember Dr. King, I think of his great speech – the ‘I have a dream’ – but I also recall the Birmingham demonstrations,“ said Bishop Tracy S. Malone of the East Ohio Conference, who also emphasized the Montgomery bus boycott, the poor people’s march in Washington, D.C., and Dr. King’s standing up for the sanitation workers in Memphis.

“Dr. Martin Luther King was a man of action.  He had a dream, but he was a man who acted,” she said.

During the morning celebration, several city and state officials shared the many ways that Dr. King made an impact in their lives, and Lena Nance reminisced about being a part of the 1963 March on Washington, D.C.

“Martin was a beacon for me,” she said.  “He was a bridge builder, and everything that happened has shaped my life and I know it will shape yours.”

Speaking about Dr. King’s legacy, Nance said, “Don’t call it a dream, let’s call it a plan for action.”

The program culminated with a standing ovation for Tracy Bass and for fourth-graders Traevon Anderson and Cheri Stoudermire, after they recited Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.

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

Leading from Your Strengths

By Rick Wolcott*

Powerful witness, passionate worship, and invigorating fellowship were again at the heart of the Bishops’ Retreat with Black Clergy, which was held this year at Deer Creek Lodge outside of Columbus.  Clergy from the East Ohio Conference and from the West Ohio Conference gathered for a time of spiritual renewal, networking, and to learn about leading from their strengths.

Before arriving on Oct. 23 for the three-day retreat, each participant took the online StrengthsFinder test.  Each clergy member brought the results of their test to the retreat, during which there were multiple sessions devoted to learning how to use those strengths to lead people in their respective mission fields.

“I’m very passionate about local churches engaging their mission field.  I am passionate about getting churches outside of their walls and fully engaging the mission field and meeting relevant needs,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone, of the East Ohio Conference.  “If you’re faithful in loving, in listening, in leading, I’ve got your back, and, more importantly, God has your back.”

Bishop Tracy S. Malone shares her faith story.

Bishop Malone and Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, of the West Ohio Conference, met one-on-one with clergy members during the retreat and also led group conversations, during which they emphasized the need for clergy to have spiritual companions to whom each could bare their soul.

“It is very critical for mind, body, spirit, for sanity to be in covenant relationship and to be able to get into each other’s business to really care about the well-being of each individual.  That is so critical my friends,” Malone said.  “We have to be intentional about being in covenant community with one another.  We have to care for one another and be able to ask, ‘how is it with your soul?’”

“Who calls you just to see how your soul is progressing and who do you call to see how their soul is progressing?” Palmer asked.

Citing the myriad of ways that technology enables us to stay connected, Palmer asked, “Is there any reason that you can’t show up in one way, shape, or another for each other?”

“Showing up is important because there is strength in presence,” Malone said.  “Sometimes words cannot convey how you are really feeling, so the ministry of presence is critical.”

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During the question and answer portion of the retreat’s opening session, Pastor Dawan Buie of Centenary Youngstown and Mahoning East UMCs (Mahoning Valley District) asked the bishops, “What do you think the Lord needs of us to move us to where you see The United Methodist Church in Ohio going?”

“God needs servant leaders like us to read the signs of the times and to articulate those to the communities of faith and to the ministry settings where we are serving,” Palmer said.  “We need to be able to read the signs of the times and invite people into a new reality and way of seeing, doing and being – but at the heart of it what we haven’t forsaken is the core, the gospel and the Lord of the Church.”

“What comes to my spirit is we need more confidence, confidence in our leadership, confidence in your ability to lead, confidence in the Holy Spirit, and having that level of confidence no matter what your placement, no matter what your context, believing that God can do great things through you and through your church,” Malone said.  “I’m prayerful for this confidence and this boldness that God has called you for such a time as this and not to focus on who you are not but to focus on who you are.”

She concluded by saying, “What I’m expecting is not to be looking for the next thing, looking for the next opportunity, but to bloom and plant right where you are, to be faithful to where you are, and your gifts will make room for you.”

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