Lewis and Feliciano Pursue Minority Church Excellence

Two leaders in the Office of Congregational Excellence are making steady progress in their efforts to improve how minority churches connect, embrace resources and serve their communities with excellence.

The Rev. Harold Lewis, Director of Black Congregational Development, and the Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano, Hispanic Director of Congregational Excellence, spoke to the e-Review recently and outlined action steps they have taken in their respective ministry areas across 2010—and looked ahead to exciting opportunities for 2011.

Dr. Harold Lewis

Lewis has been in his current role since May 2009, and before that was a senior pastor in the Baltimore/Washington Conference. He is the first person to hold this position with the Florida Conference, and embraced the opportunity to construct the ministry’s foundation.

“The objective for the first two years or so is to build relationships and learn the culture of the Conference, visiting local churches and talking to pastors, understanding the nuances and ethos of the Florida Conferences,” said Lewis, who also spends 25 percent of his time with new church development. “It’s one of the most, if not the most, diverse of our Conferences.

A key part of this discovery process has been facilitating what Lewis calls “black church presentations.” He divided the Conference into four quadrants, so that those districts that had a minimum number of black churches would limit the amount of traveling required. The presentations involved introducing a working direction and vision for the black church; establishing core values; laying out a plan that would include building a black church strategic team of 12-15 clergy and laypersons, which would learn to see the churches “as our clients”; and seeking to understand the needs of the black church.

“We focus on two key questions first: ‘How can we help?’ Then, ‘What are the resources?’”

The four presentations culminated in the Conference’s first black church symposium in early December at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, with about 225 persons in attendance. Guest presenters included Fred Allen from Strengthening the Black Church and Candace Lewis, both of Nashville. The symposium involved gathering issues and concerns that dealt with worship; leadership in a black context; how to deal with church conflict; clergy burnout; a discipleship model; and introduction of a coaching model.

“One comment that kind of stunned me was that the black church constituency had not convened themselves in such a context for a couple of decades,” Lewis noted. “Fred Allen brought information; Candace Lewis brought information for the hip-hop generation. (The Rev.) David Berkey talked about camps and retreats and Lockmiller grants. A lot of this information had not gotten down to the lay person level.”

Lewis added that participants felt “it was a gift to be able to come together. The fellowship, the camaraderie, coming together, receiving the same information together—some of the comments were very encouraging and, in some cases, enlightening.”

Looking ahead to 2011, Lewis said a key push the first half of the year will be getting ready for the election of delegates to both Annual Conference and the 2012 General Conference event that takes place in Tampa. Around midsummer to early fall, he plans to kick off quarterly workshops.

“We don’t want to overdose folks. We want to give them opportunity to process, to let simmer. But there’s always something to asking, ‘What’s next?’ That’s the strategy moving forward.”

Lewis is currently developing a black church blog, which will publish bi-monthly to cascade “how-to's, best practices, information, what’s coming up around the connection,” as part of the Conference web page under the Center for Congregational Excellence.

The black church strategic team is also a work in progress. Lewis wants the team to develop a vision and a direction together collectively, “and then get some coaching skills so we can deploy chunks of people with the same objective to work with the districts and the local churches.” The newly-assembled team recently held its first conference call, and Lewis hopes the group meets face-to-face before the end of January.

Another long-term goal is establishing a Black Church Leadership Institute, an annual event where resources can be brought in from across the UMC connection for two-and-a-half-days of learning.

Lewis is also spending some time working with a few churches in a mediator capacity, seeking to resolve some conflicts. This speaks to the larger challenge he faces in his role, the dynamic that “churches for the most part are complex institutions. We tend to put ourselves on an island. The UMC is a great entity in that it is connectional. One of my messages has been, ‘We’re a connectional church. We’re in this together.’ To embrace this has been an awakening. At the get-togethers, I encourage them to network, to exchange business cards, phone numbers and emails.”

Lewis continued, “It will take time. If we stay the course and remain convinced to what the black church has the potential to do, keeping one or two things going in each quarter—then after a few years it will be rooted to bear fruit on its own.”

He reminds readers that “even with the black church you have different cultures, like African Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans. We don’t want to take one-size-fits-all, but encourage each culture to express itself within its context. And then on the strategic team have a delegate to say, ‘Here’s how we can resource the Jamaican church, for example, and still be the church.”

Lewis asserts that one of his office’s core values is “to be available, to make ourselves accessible. The key is that the local churches and districts are the Annual Conference’s clients. As our client, how can we serve you?”

Dr. Juan Feliciano

Just down the hall from Lewis, Dr. Feliciano serves a dual role—in both Hispanic new church development and congregational excellence. These positions were combined in mid-2010 due to budget constraints. Feliciano began with the Conference in the congregational excellence role in January 2010.

“Both roles have been exciting and demanding,” Feliciano said. “My first year here has been a learning experience for me.  Getting to know the Annual Conference, the demands of the jobs, the expectations from different groups and people, has been an educational experience for me. It is like learning a new culture.”

The same, Feliciano continued, has been true with the process of getting to know the local congregations; the dynamics of the Hispanic communities; the dynamics within a very diverse Hispanic Community (22 countries have Spanish-speaking populations, the U.S. being the fifth largest), plus the expected tension between Anglos and Hispanic groups at local level (both, district-wise and local church-wise).

“The learning process has included formal training in the intricacies and endeavor required from two very different jobs.  I have been trained in coaching for congregational excellence and for new church plants.  I had to learn all about rules, dynamics, power channels, communications dynamics, administrative dynamics, districts dynamics, and many other administrative processes. On top of all of that, I have been learning how to treat, talk, deal, and relate to a diverse number of characters and personalities.  I have been also learning about intrinsic relationships between leaders and teams, power, authority, etc.,” Feliciano continued.

The fact that Feliciano chose to move to the South East District, where Hispanics are in large numbers, has represented another learning opportunity because he has had to travel all over the Florida Peninsula.

“These two positions have one thing in common: they relate to Hispanics,” Feliciano noted. “The fact is that they both require very different skills, knowledge, and training.  Working with existing congregations, long term relationships, developed leadership, etc., is very different than working with a new pastor and developing leadership teams.  Working toward finding places, styles, and planting a new seeds is very different from the dynamics of entering, diagnosing, proposing, and implementing a transforming structural, relational, and missional process for excellence.”

Feliciano added that the active role of the Hispanic Assembly and other effective Hispanic leaders, both laity and clergy, has maintained a proactive communication between the Conference and Hispanic leadership.

“For example, the Florida UMC Comprehensive Plan for Hispanic Ministry (adopted in 2000) has been revised and a new proposal will come before the 2011 Annual Conference for approval. Other examples include the participation of Hispanic representation in the strategic planning group appointed by the Bishop.  There is also Hispanic representation on major structures of the Conference, such as the Board of Ordained Ministry.

“The fact that I have been moving around, up and down, all over the Conference (districts, training events, meetings, etc.), has granted opportunities to expand the communication and relationships between Conference and Hispanic leadership,” Feliciano continued.

However, Feliciano added that “much more is to be accomplished during the next year.” In 2011, he plans to offer “Excellent Congregations Workshops” by districts, and continue offering coaching, support, training, and advice to Hispanic local churches’ pastors and lay leadership for congregational excellence. Feliciano also will continue efforts to help select, train, and coach New Church Development’s Hispanic pastors and leadership teams; help, advocate, and maintain open communication between Hispanic new church plants and Conference, district and local church levels; bring Hispanic pastors together for conversations, study, and consultation about ways to enhance Hispanic Ministry in the FLUMC.; develop Hispanic Study Groups for congregational growth, outreach, and excellence; and recruit Hispanic leaders for seminary, course of study school and other theological education opportunities offered here.

Additional information concerning the ethnicity of congregations across the Florida Conference:

    • There are 73 African American Congregations with a total weekly worship attendance of 4,677 in 2009. Average weekly worship: 65.
    • There are 20 Haitian congregations with a total weekly worship attendance of 2,681 in 2009.  Average weekly worship: 134.
    • There are 33 Hispanic congregations with a total weekly worship attendance of 1,387 persons in 2009.  Average weekly worship: 42.
    • There are 672 predominantly white congregations with a total weekly worship attendance of 136,798.  Average weekly worship: 204.

News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011, ghastings@flumc.org, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer, editor, coach and speaker based in Franklin, Tenn.

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