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Black Methodists answer caucus’ call for financial solvency

 


Black Methodists answer caucus’ call for financial solvency

March 24, 2005       

By Linda Green*

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (UMNS)—Hugs, kisses and murmurs of “glad to see you” abounded as the family called Black Methodists for Church Renewal reunited for its 38th annual session.

And as with family, when a member has a need -- in spite of past conflicts -- the family responds to alleviate the problem.  A clarion call to lay a strong financial and spiritual foundation for the continued existence of the black caucus was issued to the 500 black Methodists attending the March 16-19 national meeting. The call also was issued to the more than 2,400 African-American United Methodist congregations across the United States.

The family rallied and answered the challenge in a festival of giving as churches, groups, chapters and individuals contributed $65,830 in money and pledges on the spot.

Bishop Melvin Talbert, in calling for financial solvency, said that BMCR is at a crucial moment in its survival as an efficient and effective instrument for inclusiveness and justice in the United Methodist Church. Talbert is executive director of BMCR.

The caucus was organized in 1968 as a forum for black Methodists to define issues and develop strategies for change within the United Methodist Church. It aims to empower black Methodists for effective witness and service; involve them in the struggle for economic justice; and expose racism at all levels in the church, its agencies and related institutions.

It was also formed to act as an “agitating conscience” that works toward ensuring equity and inclusiveness throughout the United Methodist Church. 

Under the theme “If We Build It, They Will Come: Building Effective Worship,” Talbert outlined several strategies which, he said, would provide an infusion of money and, at the same time, construct a platform introducing the caucus to youth, young adults and older adults.

One strategy involves challenging African-American churches to make a financial covenant with the caucus for up to 10 years by including BMCR in their church budgets. 

The plan shows how contributions of  $1,000, $750 or $250 from the 2,400 black congregations would shore up reserves, provide operating capital and enable future investment to allow the caucus to focus its energy on its fundamental task of providing advocacy and justice, two areas at the heart of the needs and desires of African Americans in the church and society. 

The caucus also is offering individuals the opportunity to move BMCR ahead with speed in the future through a “Building Blocks” program where $5 blocks are purchased for long-range development. 

Within the BMCR structure, members also support the organization through the payment of annual dues and through reaching the status of life member and Harry Hosier member by contributing $500 and $1,000 respectively.  The caucus also receives support from denomination’s Commission on Religion and Race and the Board of Global Ministries.

“This is our organization,” said Talbert as he acknowledged the need to end dependence on the wider church’s resources. “We need to own it. There are more than enough resources in reach to support this organization.”

Besides the $65,830 in pledges and contributions made during the meeting, those family members not in attendance were apprised of the bishop’s call for BMCR’s salvation and promised to send their pledges to BMCR headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.

All contributors noted the value of BMCR and Talbert, in his report to the body, called the festival of giving a “test” of African-American United Methodists commitment to keep the organization “alive, vital and effective” and the future hopeful.

“The presence and work of our new executive director (Talbert) made the difference in the way people responded to the call to make financial contributions to BMCR,” said the Rev. Joseph Crawford, Atlanta. He called Talbert a “credible messenger” for the organization and the response of the members is “ a renewed sense of direction and purpose.”

The call of Talbert and the response of the family shows a commitment to move forward, said Theresa M. Dixson, a member of St. James United Methodist Church, Kansas City, Mo.  “I have found that I have a need to be an active participant in BMCR,” she said.

William Rollins, a member of Downs Memorial United Methodist Church, Oakland, Calif., has been attending annual sessions since 1971. He expressed gratitude for Talbert, “who really laid it out for us” and propelled the family known as BMCR to immediately respond.

“This is the first time that I have felt that BMCR really heard that it has to get serious about its existence,” he said. “We no longer have agencies to take care of us, which was a crutch that caused some people to believe that someone else would take care of us and not to take BMCR seriously.”

Rollins credited the caucus for his being a member of church, annual conference and general church staffs for the past 42 years. He keeps attending the meetings because of a commitment to the denomination. “This vehicle is the only way that we can ensure that our progress continues,” he said.

BMCR is the means by which people of color gather to explore their wants, desire and be able to obtain their goals and bring others to Christ, said Brenda Berry-Long, a member of John Wesley United Methodist Church, Bridgeton, N.J.  “I see so much potential in BMCR. God put us here.  It is about people of color moving ahead and showing what we have to offer to the world.”

Recalling what BMCR has been in the past led the Rev. Alfred Maloney to express hope that “BMCR can be the point of the spear in transforming many African-American congregations.” He said wants the caucus to address the decline of churches, especially those in the inner-city and find ways of involving them in BMCR.

Talbert provided the membership with some tough love, as he said business as usual no longer exists and proclaimed that a “time for courageous leadership and courageous follower-ship.”  He said that if the caucus marshaled its resources—money, people—it can respond to God’s spirit which is calling it to action.

The Rev. Fred Allen, a staff member of the United Methodist Publishing House put it another way. In a keynote address that set the context of the national meeting, he said BMCR is called to a ministry of “efficacy” for its mission and the mission of the church in the 21st Century. “Do we make an adequate witness to the good news of Jesus Christ and facilitate discourse on the major issues of our day?” he asked.

Regardless of the way that question is answered, Allen said BMCR should “listen.” He provided a long list of audiences the caucus should hear and said “Just listen. Just let people’s needs, yearnings, questions and fears wash over you like waves at the ocean. Just take it all in. For somewhere in that storm, or maybe after the storm, you will hear the voice of God. You will hear what every leader is afraid to hear.You will hear your actual calling.”

In other actions, BMCR members:

• Attended workshops and presentations on building effective worship;
• Paid tribute to those individuals who were present when BMCR was launched 38 years ago;
• Learned of a new African American songbook scheduled for release by Abingdon Press, an imprint of the United Methodist Publishing House, in 2006;
• Were introduced to a new Africana-centric Vacation Bible School study called “Shouting in the Hush Arbor”;
• Learned of the creation of the Woodie White Endowment Fund for Racial Justice at the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race and of a special fundraiser May 6 in the Northeast Jurisdiction;
• Presented the Rev. Rosa Clements, pastor of Werner United Methodist Church, Cleveland, Ohio, and Pete Taylor of Oakland, Calif., with the David White Laity Award, and a special award to Thelma Barnes, Greenville, Miss. for her longtime service to the caucus;
• Learned of the Martin Luther King Memorial Project, which is asking Americans to contribute $100 million to build a tribute to King at the national mall in Washington, and that groundbreaking is scheduled for November 2006.
 
The caucus also elected the Rev. Vincent Harris, Houston, chairperson; Cheryl Walker, Lake Junaluska, N.C., vice chairperson; Debra Dangerfield, Chicago, secretary; and the Rev. Joseph Crawford, Atlanta, treasurer.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or
newsdesk@umcom.org.

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