Black Methodist caucus gathers to navigate church renewal

By the Rev. Amiri Hooker

COLUMBIA—United Methodist clergy and laity across the Southern states gathered in South Carolina Oct. 27-30 for the 52nd annual meeting of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Black Methodists for Church Renewal.

It was an honor to welcome the meeting to Columbia, where our state motto is "Dum Spiro Spero: While I breathe, I hope." One of the main things this year’s conference projected was hope for The United Methodist Church, and especially the Black Methodist Church.

At the meeting, held in-person at the Double Tree by Hilton Columbia, SEJ BMCR celebrated a commitment to “chartering the course through treacherous waters.” More than 50 years ago, Black Methodists for Church Renewal was birthed out of the necessity of Black Methodists to set a course and offer cooperation to the newly forming UMC, a body of believers who desired to become more like Christ.

In today’s reality, BMCR continues to stand up and champion the cares, concerns and celebrations of its people while staying focused on the challenges and opportunities within the UMC, as well as the changing landscape of our communities. BMCR is still here advocating for unity and standing against systemic injustice. It is still acting as the agitating conscience on all boards and agencies. And it is still working initiate, develop and implement strategies for the development and growth of strong Black local churches.

Highlights from the meeting began with an impressive opening-session memorial service with music by Jarvis Wilson and an introduction by Barbara Jackson (Northern Alabama), coordinator for SEJ-BMCR. Greetings were offered by South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston and Dr. Cathy Jamieson, Columbia District superintendent, as well as the Hon. Steve Benjamin, mayor of the City of Columbia.

A powerful keynote on the theme “What’s Going On?” was next offered by Bishop Sharma Lewis, resident bishop for the Virginia Conference of the UMC. The day also featured two learning labs on the future of the Black church with a pointed conversation between Dr. Reginald Lee (South Carolina), Hartsville District Cooperative Parish, and Dr. Michael Bowie, executive director of SBC-21. The conversation left participants with hope and a stated passion for the necessity of local Black churches in the community. A second learning lab on “Power at the Polls: Midterm Elections” focused on the needs for local churches to get members to exercise their rights to vote.

A communion service was held Thursday evening at Journey UMC with a message from Holston, who preached from Mark 1:6-7 on “From The Inside Out, Because Many Of Us Are Overdue For Maintenance.”

On Friday we had a wonderful town-hall style “What’s Going On?” discussing plans for possible church separation. Presenting were Holston; Lewis; Bowie; DuWanna Thomas Esq. (North Georgia Conference), chair, North Georgia BMCR; the Rev. Jasmine Smothers (North Georgia Conference), pastor, Atlanta First UMC; and Dr. Byron Thomas (North Georgia Conference), past coordinator, SEJ-BMCR, and superintendent, Central South District. It covered many of the concerns but also some of the hopes for the growth of the Black church.

Next was a truthful worship celebration with the Rev. Telley Lynette Gadson, superintendent of South Carolina’s Hartsville District, who delivering an eye-opening message, “Do You Know The Assignment?”

The meeting closed Saturday with an installation of officers by Dr. Candace Lewis, president and dean of Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta.

The Rev. Amiri Hooker was installed as the new BMCR coordinator of the jurisdiction.

In all, the theme for this year—“What’s Going On: Charting the Course Through Treacherous Waters”—spoke to the issues at hand in this time in our lives, in the life of our country and in the life of the church.

We maneuvered through the COVID-19 pandemic and found ourselves making decisions about how to return to a “normal church life” amid recent protests for racial justice and equality, voting rights and the wait for General Conference.

We who attended were thankful for this opportunity from SEJ BMCR to educate ourselves on the issues and be willing to step up and address them.

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