|Bishop Carter celebrated communion with African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Adam J. Richardson on Thursday morning. Photo by Lance Rothwell.|
“Leadership is less about the love of power
And more about the power of love.”
The opening worship’s prayer of confession set the tone for the 2016 Annual Conference theme, Leading Like Jesus. The call for leadership, love and inclusion wove throughout the meeting’s first day, from Holy Communion to the closing conversation with Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church and Rev. Jorge Acevedo, senior pastor of Grace Church, Cape Coral, to a night prayer vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings.
In a candid, powerful testimony that rang through the crowd, special speaker Lucille O’Neal told Florida Annual Conference members Thursday that finding God turned her life around and made it worth living.
After her superstar son became the No. 1 draft pick, the Orlando resident and author better known as the mother of NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal, said her life took a dark turn.
“I used my son’s extra dollars. I bought the best liquor we could buy. And I hid for a lot of months,” she said. “Half the time I was drunk, and I didn’t know what it means when they said God has a master plan.
“I can remember being in a sad state because I had personal issues going on: my mother was sick, dying of cancer, the family was dysfunctional—and we tried to cover that up. But I can guarantee, God never left us. He taught me what to do.
|Lucille O'Neal, mother of basketball great Shaquille O'Neal, gave her testimony to the crowd. Photo by Lance Rothwell.|
“God whispered in my ear, ‘Lucille, I called you for my purpose and you better stay within my sight,’” she told the crowd. “When God sets you up for a leadership position he will equip you, he will certify you and he will give you everything you need to be a witness of those around you.”
In 1997, five years after moving to Orlando from San Antonio, she fulfilled her lifetime dream of resuming her education, with help from her superstar son. Turning the traditional table of parent/child arrangements, Shaq said he’d pay his mom’s tuition—if she got good grades.
Her book, Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go, is considered a memoir, but she calls it her 40 years of testimony.
Today she is president of the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players Association and holds leadership roles in a dozen other philanthropic organizations.
God “takes you to places you didn’t ever think you could be,” she said. “I’ve been to the White House and I’ve been to other folks’ houses, too,” she said, evoking laughs from the afternoon crowd.
“It is never too late for a new beginning,” she said, adding, “But you can call me Dr. Rev. Lucille O’Neal,” receiving a standing ovation from the large crowd. Click here for a video of O'Neal's testimony.
Also Thursday, Bishop Ken Carter called for a moment of silence for those killed in the June 12 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
He read a statement from the Bishop and the Florida Conference Cabinet about the tragedy, classified as a hate crime, calling it a “blatant act of mass murder that happened literally in our neighborhood.
“We are grateful for our connection and the witness of our churches in the greater Orlando area, around the Conference, and in the larger Connection, in providing a loving response through prayer, counseling, and a variety of practical means. We also affirm that the need for those responses will be ongoing.”
The members showed an overwhelming support for the statement. Click here to read it.
Bishop Adam Richardson Jr., who joined Bishop Carter as communion celebrant, described a similar horror in June 2015 when nine people were shot and killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
“Our stomachs were rumbling, our hearts were pounding” upon learning the victims had just been in Bible study/prayer service when a man with a gun entered the 200-year-old church.
“None of us are exempt from danger that is lurking around us all the time,” he said. “To be a Christian does not mean that I’m not afraid. This was an opportunity for me to grow closer to God. This was no time to abandon my faith.”
|Rev. Bill Hybels. Photo by Lance Rothwell.|
In a report on the Young Adult Missional Movement (YAMM), the participants shared how important their year of living together in a covenant relationship gave them opportunities to live together, work together and grow together in service. A ministry of the Missional Engagement department at the conference, YAMM is a commitment to grow young adults for Christian leadership.
Thursday evening, Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill., addressed various topics in a question and answer format with Rev. Acevedo. Hybels emphasized the importance of passionate leadership in building and sustaining churches. Click here for a video of the Hybels interview.
Thursday’s session concluded with a 9:30 evening prayer vigil for the Orlando shooting victims, held outside the Buena Vista Palace Hotel convention center. Click here for a photo essay of the vigil.
–George R. Wilkens is a free lance writer based in Wesley Chapel.