From the Worldwide Faith News archives

African American ministers proclaim need for reconciliation

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 19 Oct 1998 13:25:33

Oct. 19, 1998      Contact: Tim Tanton((615)742-5470(Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This story is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS #598.

By Robert Lear*
ATLANTA (UMNS) - African American ministers in the Wesleyan tradition
stressed the need for reconciliation with each other, society and God
during a gathering that brought together men from four Methodist

Recalling their heritage as African Americans, reflecting on Wesleyan
concepts in light of contemporary life and rejoicing in each other's
company, 1,100 men celebrated under the theme "Brother to Brother" at
the 1998 National Black Men's Conference. The Oct. 15-18 gathering, held
at the Georgia International Convention Center, was the first such event
of its kind in more than two centuries. 
"We are together, again," the Rev. William B. McClain said in the
conference's opening address. 

The meeting drew together black men from the African Methodist Episcopal
(AME), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ), Christian Methodist
Episcopal (CME) and United Methodist churches, along with a sprinkling
of women and whites.

"We've got to straighten out what we messed up," said McClain, a
professor of theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He
referred to the l787 incident in which Richard Allen led a band of
followers out of St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia
amid charges of racism and formed today's AME church.

"They left because people did not practice what they preached," McClain
"History pleads for us to do something important at this meeting, and
God empowers us," he said. What is called for today is reconciliation to
each other, to "the common folks" and to God, he said. The gospel of
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, "changed both hearts and society," he
The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist
Church in Houston, also emphasized reconciliation in his address, using
the parable of the prodigal son. The story could have been called the
parable of the reconciling father, Caldwell said.

"God has not called you to spend your life in a pigpen," the Houston
pastor said. However, "when you cannot control your appetites, the devil
has a toehold on you."
The theme of reconciliation was dramatized when the black churchmen were
joined by white laymen from nearby Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church in
anointing each other with oil and sharing embraces.
Houston Mayor Lee Brown, an AME layman, called for change in society as
well as reconciliation.

"We need to focus our attention on solutions, not just problems," Brown
said. "Unless we are part of the economic structures, we have not found
true freedom."
In another address, the Rev. Dennis Proctor said the mission of the
church is not to "go into the world one day," but to go "across the
street this day." People should be "in church," not "at church," he
"The spirit of the Lord can unite us so we can do those things we could
not do separately," said Proctor, pastor of Pennsylvania Avenue AMEZ
Church in Baltimore.
The church must be a master of change if it is going to make it in the
21st century, when the culture will change every two years, said the
Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Baltimore.
A basic step is to "put love into action," he said. One of the most
difficult things for men to do is love themselves and each other, he
The Rev. Vashti W. McKenzie, pastor of Payne Memorial AME Church in
Baltimore, urged the men to stand their ground on character issues. 

"It has been said that everyone has his price, no matter how religious
or spiritual," and the price is not necessarily monetary, he said.
However, some men refuse to sell out, McKenzie said. "There are some men
who are not for sale at any price."
In the communion homily that ended the conference, CME Bishop Othal H.
Lakey cautioned that "winning battles doesn't necessarily mean one is
winning the war." The biblical story of David slaying "giant Goliath"
and then, as king, giving in to his lust for the "bathing Bathsheba"
illustrates the challenge black men face, the Atlanta bishop said.

"Life has battles, and life has wars," Lakey stated, "and if you don't
know the difference, you will lose the war."  

The meaning of life, he said, "derives not from what you are, but who
and whose you are."
Each worship service during the conference was marked by enthusiastic
clapping, singing, praise, embracing, "amens" and shouts of
encouragement to the preacher. A combo including keyboard, percussion,
reeds and strings provided an instrumental backdrop.
Almost two dozen workshops offered resources on topics such as
developing lay leadership in a local church; models of black male
mentoring; spiritual formation and healing; and examining "what black
women wish black men would learn about relationships and family." In
recognition of a major concern for men of all races, a health issues
workshop offered free screening for prostate cancer.
Some of the men spent an afternoon on mission field trips to locations
such as the Georgia Justice Project and the Atlanta City Detention
Center. Earlier in the weekend, the men were welcomed to Atlanta by
Jackie Barrett, the black woman sheriff of Fulton County and a member of
Ben Hill United Methodist Church.
Plans are under study to follow up the meeting by establishing satellite
Pan Methodist men's groups in about a dozen major cities, said the Rev.
Joseph Harris, top staff executive of the Commission on United Methodist
Men, a conference sponsor.

# # #
*Lear is a retired staff member of United Methodist News Service
residing in Wernersville, Pa.

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