July 2020. What an appointed time in history to receive this Vision for the Black Church in America. I begin by making this statement that: the “Black Church Property is the single Black Community Owned Real Estate in this land.” Those who would argue this point let them! For I know; and this will be a given for me in “Writing the Vision” and “making it plain” that: the Black Church Property is the single Black Community Owned Real Estate in this land.
The Deeds are “Public Record”. My Church Folk, informed and who are “The Wheels” of The Church, most especially those of you who think that it will “not Run without you”; take a trip to the “Register of Deed” for your own personal copy of The Church’s Deed; see whose names reside on them. The Black Church MUST NOT be ‘banished into cyberspace’! Return to the Church with a renewed sense of… Ownership!
The more I “Commune With God” concerning “This Vision”, I believe to begin at the point of my leaving Bennett College in May 1992 where I served as Chaplain from 1988-92 and Teaching Philosophy of Religion. I was headed to the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, where I had received both Deacon Ordination (1980) and Elder Ordination (1982) after earning the Master of Divinity Degree in 1981 from Gammon Theological Seminary in the Interdenominational Theological Center in the Atlanta University Center.
The move to North Georgia was predicated upon the appointment made as Pastor to Bethlehem Church. Just prior to that moment I received a call from District Superintendent Herschel Sheets stating that my appointment had been changed to the Associate position of Central Church. This began perhaps the most tumultuous year of my ministry.
In January 1993 I experienced the death of my Seminary President Dean the Rev. Dr. Major J. Jones. His death by gun shot suicide only added to the tumult that I was experiencing in Church Politics. What? Having to return to Atlanta for… This?!
A couple weeks later Rev. Nick Harvey came by my office having left a meeting where he heard that I was back in Atlanta. Nick was one of the children of the cornerstone Hill Family of Gordon Road when I had served as Pastor. During our visit he asked me if I would be attending the conference for African American United Methodist Clergy from which he had just come as a member of its planning committee. I had no knowledge of it I said to him and he picked up the phone from my desk in an attempt to put me on the mailing list. When he hung up from the call he had a puzzled look on his face and said in a monotone, I will tell you that the date is February 23 at the Holiday Inn Airport.
I had called Rev. Elma Joyce Harris, Pastor in the Kansas Conference since our leaving Seminary to tell her of Doc’s Death. She came for the Funeral and I called again to tell her of the Conference and that it was a secret. She said, we African American ain’t we? I said yes. We Clergy? Yes. We United Methodist? Yes. We going!
When we walked into the room, someone called my name as a question mark. When I looked it was Rev. William James! As I approached his outstretched arms I was transported immediately to the New York Annual Conference. Bill James had served as Pastor to Metropolitan UMC Harlem for more than 30 years. By the time I served in the New York Conference, first as Pastor to Bethel Church in Brooklyn, then as Associate to Salem in Harlem, every pastor under the age of 35 had come into ministry under Rev. James. He was ‘The Godfather!’ No sooner than his questions began, where you been? What you been doing? I heard my name called again and looked… It was Bishop Roy C. Nichols!
Rare is the man elected to the Episcopacy from the Pulpit. Salem did that… Twice. During my years at Salem, I could only watch in awe the love that Salem Harlem has for the Rev. Bishop Nichols. He preached the Annual “5 Night Revival” and I count it a great honor sitting with him each night at the Pastor’s Dinner Table… China, Silver, Crystal… As I approached his outstretched arms I knew then that God had ordained my presence in this place.
Then in that space I exchanged my love for Dr. Jonathan Jackson, Dr. James Shopshire and Dr. Grant Shockly the men who had given me Theological Education on a level that had already stood the test of time. Oh and then I saw the Bishop James S. Thomas, presiding over the East Ohio Conference who, during my years in Seminary, with his “testing me” to see if I would return to Ohio to serve the Church? I did say that this was the most important conference I have attended on the Black Church?
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