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Pastors, laity receive tools to help revitalize church

Pastors, laity receive tools to help revitalize church

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pastors, laity receive tools to help revitalize church

Feb. 7, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0795}

NOTE: This article was produced and distributed Jan. 11 by United Methodist News Service.

An e-Review Feature
By Linda Green**

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “The African-American church in the Florida Annual Conference is dying,” said a United Methodist pastor who brought a 26-member delegation to a churchwide symposium focusing on building ministry partnerships in black churches.

The Rev. Geraldine McClellan. A UMNS photo by Linda Green. Photo #08-0744.

“African-American churches in my mind have been neglected,” said the Rev. Geraldine McClellan, district superintendent for the North Central District of the Florida Conference.

Her delegation, representing 11 congregations, was among about 200 congregational leaders who attended the Jan. 3-5 “Thunder in the Desert: Symposium for Partnerships in African-American churches.”

The event was designed to provide church leaders with resources to strengthen and energize their African-American churches. It was sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship to help churches plan and implement effective ministry partnerships between laity and clergy leaders.

The symposium was among the agency’s ongoing efforts to address leadership development within the church — one of four areas of focus set by the denomination for the 2009-2012 period.

Thunder and rain

With the words “thunder and rain” as the backdrop, speakers spoke of ministry in dry places and of the need for refreshing and revitalizing water to strengthen those ministries.

“Thunder means movement; it means action,” McClellan said. “Whenever you hear thunder, you expect something to happen and change. Sometimes God has to come through and clean out that which has been lying dormant and start a new thing.”

For the black church, the thunder is God cleaning out the old and allowing it to become a restorative church where lives are transformed and people can feel the presence of God in worship, according to the speakers.

Many black churches have lost their identity and culture in worship, the speakers said, and become so “Caucasian-ized” they have forgotten God’s work and miracles in their lives.

“What this symposium has done is helped us recognize that we have our own culture, and God has given us a style of worship that is unique, and we don’t have to be ashamed of that,” McClellan said. “We have become so ashamed of what God has done for us, and because of that our churches are dying.”

Tools for preparation

The Rev. Tyrone Gordon called the symposium a tool to prepare for the coming rain and to help the church become what God is calling it to be.

“It is all right to be black and Methodist at the same time,” said Gordon, pastor of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas. Some believe being Methodist means assuming the identity of the majority and acting like what the black church is not, he told the gathering.

The Rev. Lillian Smith leads a small group discussion at the "Thunder in the Desert" symposium in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 3-5. Smith is director of Connectional Ministries for the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. A UMNS photo by Linda Green. Photo #08-0745.

“Our gift to United Methodism is our spirituality,” Gordon said. “Our gift to United Methodism is an understanding that there is not a separation between our spiritual relationship with God and our social activism in the world. … We know how to praise God, and we know how to stand up for righteousness.”

God is not through with either The United Methodist Church or the black church in America, he said. “The rain of renewal, growth and vitality is on the way. This event gives us tools to prepare for the coming rain.”

Participants said they came to the symposium in search of resources and ideas to revitalize their congregations.

Betty Johnson, lay leader for White Memorial United Methodist Church, Little Rock, Ark., said the church needs strong and knowledgeable black leadership. “We have to be strengthened … and as we become strengthened, we can strengthen others,” she said.

Partnering with others

Emphasis on partnering and collaboration was a centerpiece of the symposium’s message.

“In the 21st century, partnerships are critical to the point of life and death of African-American churches in United Methodism,” said the Rev. Julius Trimble, pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Warrensville Heights, Ohio.

“We cannot exist as islands unto ourselves, whether we are successful or not,” he said. “Collaboration with one another is important to enable the church to make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

Managing money and creating assets is one way to strengthen African-American churches and support their ministry and mission, said Joshua I. Smith, chairman and managing partner of Joshua Smith Coaching, LLC.

“You are a capitalist because you function in a capitalistic system,” said Smith, a member of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. “You’ve got to know the rules. The church is the most capitalistic institution in the world. If you don’t know the rules of the game, you will suffer.”

Smith reminded those gathered “God has a bottom line” and “expects a return on his investment.”

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. United Methodist News Service is the news service for The United Methodist Church and part of the ministries of United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.