Across the Florida Conference, the numbers of black United Methodist congregations have been stalling or declining in recent years. But a conference-wide initiative aimed at turning the tide is underway, and everyone – pastors, laity and supporters of African-American churches – is invited to attend the Black Church Convocation, Dec. 9-10, 2011, at the Life Enrichment Center near Leesburg.
|Rev. Harold D. Lewis speaking at the 2010 Black Church Symposium.|
“It’s truly a gathering for learning and sharing – for affording pastors the opportunity to hone their craft, access resources and celebrate their ministries,” said the Rev. Harold D. Lewis, Sr., Director of Black Congregational Development within the Center for Congregational Excellence.
Since October 2010, Lewis has been conducting quarterly district trainings across the state so local pastors could attend closer to home. But the December meeting will be a culmination of this year-long training, an opportunity for black church leaders “from Jacksonville to Miami to come together in one place,” he explained. Previously called the Black Church Symposium in its first meeting in 2010, this year’s Convocation will introduce some new elements, including the addition of a Friday evening worship service.
“Anyone who attended last year knows how this event gives people the chance to learn from professionals and other leaders and to gain resources,” said Joyce Waldon Bright, a lay member of the conference’s strategic committee for new church development. “But by adding one more session, attendees have more time to network in between sessions and talk about what they’ve just heard and ask questions.”
The Friday program will provide more flexibility and convenience to attendees, who may be traveling long distances or who also have full-time careers in addition to their spiritual calling. Last year, some attendees drove hours to attend the one-day program only to reverse that drive at the close of the program.
“It’s important to note that this meeting is for everyone in the church – not just the clergy,” said Bright. “So often pastors get inspired and excited about programs they hear about at clergy-only meetings. But when they get back to their own churches they have a hard time getting congregations to try new things because the laity didn’t attend and they don’t understand or have the same enthusiasm.”
|Worship and celebration at the 2010 Black Church Symposium.|
She continued, “With so many black congregations in the Florida conference closing, elders abandoning United Methodist churches and only about two new churches being started in the past 20 years, the conference needs to do something. The Convocation will allow both clergy and laity to hear about successful black United Methodist churches and hopefully inspire people to say ‘Why can’t we do that?’ or ‘Why don’t we have that?’”
Among the leaders and professionals sharing their knowledge will be keynote presentations by two successful clergy of African-American churches, the Rev. Joe Daniels and the Rev. Vance P. Ross.
The Rev. Joe Daniels is the teaching pastor at Emory United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. During his18 years at Emory, the congregation has grown from an average of 55 people in weekly worship attendance to more than 400 every Sunday. The church has been awarded the “Kim Jefferson Northeast Jurisdictional Award” for effective urban ministry representing The United Methodist Church and has been selected as one of the 25 Congregational Resource Centers churches in the “Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century” effort of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Vance P. Ross is deputy general secretary for External Connectional Relations and Strategic Initiatives for the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. While he was senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville, MD, his multicultural congregation experienced 43% growth in worship attendance, 1000% growth in adult Bible study and significant growth in new ministries. The Lay Pastor ministry launched under his leadership reached more than 50 families, and an after-school arts ministry grew to serve more than 300 youth and children.
“I’ve had the opportunity to hear both these men speak in person or through videos,” said Bright. “They bring a wealth of experience in renewing and revitalizing black churches and their personal stories are inspiring. The Convocation will be an opportunity to see and hear from experts.”
Invitations to the Black Church Convocation are being mailed to past attendees. Click here for more information and online registration.