The Methodist Conference
Methodist Denominations Chime In on 'The Black Agenda"
Black Methodist Denominations meet for the first time in 45 years to develop an African American male initiative.
On March 1, thousands of Methodist members, clergy, politicians, church leaders, civic leaders, educators and others gathered in Columbia South Carolina for a three-day conference known as "The Great Gathering." The focus was to develop initiatives to combat the myriad problems facing African American males ages 12-25.
The event was organized by Senior Bishop John Bryant of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Senior Bishop William H. Graves of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and Senior Bishop George W.C. Walker of the African Methodist Zion Church. It marked the first time since the mid-1960's that the three denominations with a combined membership of more than 5 million had come together to address social ills affecting African Americans. All three churches trace their roots to john Wesley's Methodist movement, but gradually broke off on their own, mostly because of racism in white Methodist churches.
"Because of the plight that we see now of African-American men, especially as it relates to unemployment- that we believe is directly tied into much of the crime and the incarceration that we find our young men involved in-we believe that is time for the church to once again come together," said Senior Bishop George W.C. Walker of the AME Zion Church.
President Obama addressed the gathering with a personal 2-minute message stating, " To many of our young people are not getting the education they need to make a better life for themselves. To many fathers are no where to be found when there children need them most. You know these struggles you see them everyday and you also know through unwavering determination and steadfast faith each of us can rise above them and help our brothers and sisters do the same. A sense a purpose has always been at the heart of the Methodist community."
Rev. Jousha Dubois, director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships was in attendance and said President Obama is working to develop fatherhood initiatives and other programs that would complement the work of the denominations.
Los Angeles Participates in "The Great Gathering"
Los Angeles clergy were among the 12,000-plus African Americans converging on Columbia, South Carolina. The historic three-day meeting convened by the senior bishops of the A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion, and C.M.E. denominations.
"This was a great event of all historical Black Methodists coming together. The family of Methodist churches with common mission and purpose makes an awesome witness," said Rev. Dr. Kelvin T. Calloway, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles.
Rev. Dr. Richard Chapple, pastor of First A.M.E. Zion, noted, "The Great Gathering was really an effort to galvanize the strength of the three Black Methodist bodies to extend the reach of the church and develop one single initiative we would all pursue to improve the lives of African American males."
He added, that "Central to the gathering was the understanding that there are not enough black men in churches. Also, the absence of men in church and family becomes a critical factor in the ill health of families."
Rev. John Deron Johnson, pastor of Phillips Temple C.M.E. church Los Angeles attended the three day gathering and stated,' I feel we were challenged and stirred to use the resources we already have instead of always expecting the government and other communities to do for us what we can do for ourselves'.
Despite reticence in the past of the three denominations uniting for a common cause, Rev. Dr. Calloway expressed optimism about the mission of the Great Gathering. "We have far more in common than we have differences. The leadership of each denomination is to be commended for such a great vision," he said.
Women Bishops involved in "The Great Gathering"
The presence of four female bishops added a significant aspect to the historic 'Great Gathering" Summit of African American Methodists.
From the A.M.E. Church were Bishops Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Carolyn Tyler Guidry and Sarah Frances Davis; and from the A.M.E. Zion denomination was Bishop Mildred B. Hines, the first woman elected to the Episcopal level. Both Bishops Guidry and Hines are involved in Los Angeles area faith-based activities and participated in the summit.
"The A.M.E., A.M.E.Z., and C.M.E. churches were founded at different times, but all for the same reason - to freely worship and pray," said Bishop Hines. "We have been talking several years about coming together, but this year, the leadership of all three denominations decided to do it and we all agreed that now is the time to focus on African American males. And what better place to start to address this issue than in the church."
Bishop Guidry addressed the convocation about the importance of "mothers mothering sons." As the mother of five males and two grandsons, she said that the "mother is so significant in the life of boys." Also, many credit Bishop Guidry with working with conference coordinators to ensure that women - whether bishop, missionaries, educators, or lay - played an integral, visible role in the summit.
"Many women attended the Great Gathering, which is not surprising since congregational demographics are majority women," said Bishop Hines. "But women will work with men to see this project realized because just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take the whole church working together to improve conditions for young Black men."
At the conclusion of the Great Gathering, Bishop Hines said, "I left feeling very positive and I felt good about being a woman. Looking at my role, it is important to work with men, to lift them up, and to help them see their worth. It was so exciting, at the summit, to see men walking proud along the convention halls."
The Great Gathering Conclusion
By the last day March 3 the denominations pledged to raise 10 million and recruit 1 million volunteers to stem an epidemic of failure and imprisonment among young black males. They also adopted a 28 page Male Investment Plan.
The purposed plan, worked out over the three days calls for implementing a series of Saturday Academies at AME, AMZ and CME congregations around the country, establishing collaborative with historically black colleges universities and develop deep mentoring bonds with youths between ages 5-25.