Black church pastors told to move beyond safe, demure

The Rev. Vance P. Ross called on more than 450 pastors of black churches to “move beyond a safe and demure gospel to a saved and dynamic gospel.”

Ross was the opening speaker at the Convocation for Pastors of Black Churches in Atlanta, Georgia, in early January.

“We need fire because only Holy Spirit energy moves us to make love live as justice. We need to be ‘in-spirited’ so that we will move beyond a safe and demure gospel to a saved and dynamic gospel, one that takes real risks for the reign of God,” he said.

Ross, pastor of Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, has been the convener of the convocation since it started in 1999.

“The convocation mission is to offer inspiration, information and encouragement to pastors of black churches and those who support them," he said. “It is structured to address the current, felt and expressed ministerial issues confronted by attendees. It sets an environment that encourages dialogue so that registrants share ideas, passions, principles and hurts. It builds a community that makes Wesleyan connection a reality across lines of geography and congregational size.”

The Rev. Cynthia Smart, pastor of Mason Memorial Community Church in Kansas City, said she attends get new ideas of how to do ministry more effectively and to connect with colleagues who serve in different ministry contexts.

“Each time I attended it provided me with a safe place to be vulnerable before God, and listen to God speak to me. . . . I do believe if I had not been attending this conference throughout these past eight years I would not be in ministry in a local church today,” she said.

Focus on social justice

Social justice was the focus of a plenary centered on Ferguson, Missouri. The Rev. Pamela Lightsey, professor and associate dean at Boston School of Theology, and the Rev. F. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring United Methodist Church, the denomination’s only presence in Ferguson, are both involved in front line ministry there.

They presented compelling and intense accounts of their involvement with Ferguson residents, the police and the denomination. In response, the pastors often jumped to their feet with cheers of support and “Amens.”

“Our workshop focused on highlighting the social inequalities and theological considerations surrounding the fatal shooting of an African American male by a white police officer in Ferguson and subsequent events,” Johnson said.

Johnson also urged other clergy to get involved in their communities.

Bishop Julius C. Trimble of the Iowa Conference told the pastors during closing worship to go home on fire.

“Trust God when the air is rough and the enemy is real,” he said. “Eric Garner’s cry of `I can’t breathe,’ is a collective cry of a people.”

“But I can’t breathe when our churches are secret societies instead of saving stations. I can’t breathe when we are tip toeing around our prophetic call,” Trimble said.

Patterson is communications director for the North Texas Conference.

News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, newsdesk@umcom.org or 615-742-5469.

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