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.

Church Holds Service to Remember Lives Lost to Addiction

The Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office reports that “at least 187 victims have died from heroin/fentanyl or in combination” in the first four months of 2017, compared to 140 who died during the same period in 2016.

Those sobering statistics were at the root of Pastor Harlen Rife’s decision to hold a memorial service for lives lost to addiction at Pearl Road United Methodist Church in Cleveland (North Coast District).

Pastor Harlen Rife
Pastor Harlen Rife

“We are here to lift up and remember those that we have lost to addiction.  Often their struggle with substance abuse, and the way we lost them, can dominate our community’s attention leaving little room for the person underneath,” Rife said at the beginning of the Saturday, July 29 service.  “We’re here to reclaim and love those people.  We’re here to be with one another, and to remember that those struggling on this side of life are not alone.  We have each other, and above all we have God with us.”

People from the community turned out to remember loved ones, pray with parishioners of Pearl Road UMC, and speak with professional grief counselors.

“This was such a meaningful worship service and experience for people who have lost somebody,” said Juan Ramirez of First Hispanic UMC.  “I lost my father a couple of years ago and two weeks ago my wife’s uncle’s body was found after one of his so-called friends dumped it in a garbage can after he had overdosed.”

Theirs were two of 32 names read during the service to remember those who lost their life to addiction.

“I never really had a chance to grieve through my dad’s death, I was more angry at the time, and this today gave me an opportunity to actually let go,” Ramirez said.

Kevin Ringer speaks about Recovery Resources
Kevin Ringer speaks about Recovery Resources

“Addiction reaches across all parts of society.  We are seeing that especially right now with opiate addiction.  But there is hope for those who want to break the addiction and that’s what we are here to help resource,” said Kevin Ringer, prevention specialist with Recovery Resources.  He spoke with family members and East Ohio Conference clergy after the service about the agency’s services, which help clients break free from drug addiction as well as get assistance for issues of mental health.

“Because addiction is a problem for so many people I felt like this would be a good opportunity to connect with each other,” Rife said.  “The people we lost mean so much and so often they get flattened into just being someone who was addicted.  This was a chance to say that they were rounded people, complete people with their own lives and experiences and valued by God, and through that to share the message that we’re all part of that community and we’re all valued by God and we can pull together in times of need.  It was a good opportunity for folks to find some healing.”

“This is the way that we make people feel welcome by reaching out and letting God do his thing,” said Ramirez.

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

Uniting in Hope


By Rick Wolcott*

“God, these are difficult days for those who protect and serve, and for those who feel unprotected and unserved. Open our hearts and minds to hear from these faithful people today who give remarkable leadership in helping us understand the pressures of our times and to see clearly a way forward.”

  • Invocation by the Rev. Dr. Ken Chalker of University Circle UMC

Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?, a town hall discussion of the relationship between police and the African American community, drew dozens of people to University Circle United Methodist Church (North Coast District) on Saturday, February 25.

“This did not start with Michael Brown in Ferguson or Eric Garner in New York or Tamir Rice here in Cleveland. This is a decades old problem, generations old.  But if we don’t dialogue and discuss why we have this problem, and what we can do to solve this problem, it will result in chaos and confusion and mutual destruction of our community,” said Tina Johnson, chairperson of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) in East Ohio, which sponsored the town hall meeting.

Pastor Marc Tibbs of Willson UMC (North Coast District), and the vice chairperson/program director of BMCR, said, “We are like ships passing in the night, not having a real candid conversation about what ails us.”

That changed on Saturday. For more than two hours, Tibbs moderated discussions about police hiring and training practices, response times, body cameras, community interaction, citizen expectations, parenting skills, and the public education system.

“We need to work together, the police and the community,” said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams. “Our officers on a daily basis are involved in activities at schools, churches, community rec centers, parks, playgrounds, and in the neighborhoods.  We started this in 2014 when I became chief and we determined that we had to have more of a guardian philosophy and not a warrior philosophy.”

Bedford Heights Mayor Fletcher Berger and Highland Hills Police Chief Antonio Stitt said that the officers in their respective cities also are required to have daily interaction with the citizens that they serve – but they don’t do it alone.

“I’m a technology guy,” Berger said. “So our police officers don’t interact with anybody without their body camera rolling because there needs to be accountability for everybody, the police officers and our citizens.”

“This helps with our review process,” Williams concurred. “All of our front line Cleveland police officers currently have body cameras.”

“I know we need our police to do more but we can’t let the community off the hook, either. We need our citizens to be engaged,” said the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Conner, a retired East Ohio Conference elder and a member of the Cleveland Community Police Commission.

She spoke often throughout the meeting about the importance of educating our children.

“Impactful, positive change is a team effort. I am persuaded to anchor my movements and my actions toward demanding equality in education for our most vulnerable, our children,” she said.

An afternoon of good information came to a climax when each panelist shared the one thing they would do if given a blank slate to address the issues facing our communities.

Michael Nelson, president of the Cleveland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) didn’t hesitate. “I would re-establish the Police Athletic League because it gave youth a chance to interact with police before they got in trouble,” he said.

Berger said, “We need to start with our youth.  They need to get a different attitude.  We are going to have to take an attitude that we can’t let youth get away with whatever they want.”

“I would start with our youth and building relationships,” Conner said.

“I think it starts at home.  I was born in Tuskegee, Alabama and moved here when I was four when my mom split from my dad,” Williams said. “We were raised to respect others.  Parents need to be parents, and not a best friend. We need to raise our kids the way they are supposed to be raised.”

Stitt agreed. “Family for me is the key.  It’s amazing to me what people don’t know about raising their kids,” he said.  “I spend a lot of time talking to and coaching parents.”

With that, the formal discussion ended. In its place, many smaller conversations filled the meeting room, the hallway, and the parking lot as people looked for signs of hope for the ways that we treat one another.

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