Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Black clergy explore common themes at retreat



Shown at a roundtable discussion during the recent retreat in
downtown Oklahoma City are: (from left) Valerie Steele,
Frankye Johnson, Joseph Harris, Ulysses Washington (from Fort Smith, Ark.)
and Rashim Merriweather (a student at Saint Paul's Seminary).

Photo is by Ron Wallin

By JOSEPH HARRIS, Director of Communications

A group of African-American and native African clergy who serve in the Oklahoma Conference gathered April 16-18 for a time of teaching, inspiration, information, and fellowship in downtown Oklahoma City.

This annual retreat for clergy of African descent was developed from the vision of Victor McCullough, Semaj Vanzant, and Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

Bishop Hayes said the African-related context allows those who participate to relate to common experiences, develop common dreams, and encourage one another with a sense of common hope. It’s an important event because it helps give participants clarity of calling and direction as ministry needs change, he said.

About two dozen participants were inspired by devotions given by Frankye Johnson, retired, and new clergy member Nicolaus Lee of Ada-First UMC.

Principal speaker was Joseph Daniels Jr. of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Rev. Dr. Daniels holds the unique position of being superintendent of more than 67 churches in the Greater Washington District and, at the same time, serving as lead pastor of Emory United Methodist Church. He was appointed to that church in 1992, and its average Sunday attendance has risen from 55 people to more than 400.

Daniels also is the author of three books. Two of them were given to every participant: "Walking with Nehemiah – Your Community Is Your Congregation" and "Begging for Real Church" (with Christine Latona).

Daniels led discussion and teaching in four areas. He told those attending that their ministries must always be relevant, enthusiastic, authentic, and loving. That’s the African-American tradition of church at its best, he noted.

For Daniels, relevant means that clergy speak to the human condition of the people they seek to transform. Clergy are enthusiastic when they become "possessed by God," and that inspires people to a holistic life change. Clergy are authentic by being transparent, honest, and down-to-earth.

And they must lead with unconditional love that desires the well-being of others regardless of race, class, gender, age, nationality, or orientation.

Daniels connected all four topics to calling, worship, and leadership. He urged participants to give their all, take risks, understand their ministry context, and pray as if life depends on it.

Three of his sessions were "Real Leadership in the African-American Church," "Leading With Pastoral Authority," and "Blacks in the Methodist Church — Where do we go from here?" The training concluded with a focus on "Leadership With Conviction: Casting Vision, Navigating Change."


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