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Theology Thursdays: Black Methodists Address Lack Of Youth In Church


Members of the United Methodist Church's black
caucus are taking aim at a problem found throughout mainline denominations:
the absence of young people in the pews.

African-American young people often bemoan that elders will not give them a
chance in leadership and that their cultures and perspectives are not
respected, so they go to other churches where they feel counted, according to
members of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. Young people also say that
churches must make more use of visual media and computer technology to
attract young people and to enhance worship and other ministries.

The Rev. William B. McClain, professor of preaching at Wesley Theological
Seminary in Washington, voiced concern about the dearth of young leaders in
the black church.

"I'm scared," he said, speaking to 500 caucus members at their March 24-27
meeting. "I go around to our churches and find out we have no young people.
... We need new and younger leadership not because they are young but because
they may have new vision,"

In an effort to bring youth back to black United Methodist churches, the
caucus plans to implement a youth and young adult resource center that would
help youth teach and empower each other and receive mentoring from adults.

Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the denomination's official black
caucus, was organized in 1968 as a forum 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 of the church,
its agencies and related institutions.

During their meeting, the members were encouraged to remember those African
Americans who went to Cincinnati in 1968 to form the caucus. They were also
reminded that blacks have been part of American Methodism since the movement
began.

"We came as Negroes and four days later left black," McClain recalled of the
1968 meeting. "More than half of the original board of directors are gone.
... They died without receiving the promise," he said.

The Rev. Vincent Harris, caucus chairperson and pastor of Riverside United
Methodist Church in Houston, told the more than 500 black Methodists in
attendance that the black family, the black faith and the black community
must be restored, renewed and regenerated by "whatever means necessary."

"We are Methodist theologically and understand the Wesleyan evangelist call
to invite all to receive salvation, to convince all of Christ love, and to
share in fellowship and outreach," he said. "We are the preaching Methodists,
we are the singing Methodists, we are the praying Methodists, we are the
shouting Methodists. ... We are the renewal, the revival, the rekindling that
fueled the journey of hope yesterday, that fuels the hope today and fuels the
hope for tomorrow."

Harris ended his keynote address with a call for support in securing an
executive director to oversee the caucus' programs and projects, to develop
vital ministry for black churches, to support clergy and lay leadership in
black churches, and to sustain support for an African American Heritage
Center, the Strengthening the Black Church initiative, Africa University and
the Black College Fund.

With the theme of "Journey of Hope: The State of the Black Church,"
participants from across the United States explored the symbolic and literal
journey of black Methodists in the church and society.

At services of remembrance and Holy Communion, Bishop Alfred Johnson of the
New Jersey Area urged that the caucus continue to "speak the prophetic truth
in love" as an agent of justice and change.

"The church can be renewed, but it will not be renewed if you separate the
gospel from social action," Johnson said. "I pray to God that we never lose
our edge. God has done something through our suffering - not for us to wallow
in, not for us to trump others who are suffering, but for us to take our
sufferings and free the whole world."

The Rev. Cain Hope Felder, who served as the caucus' first national director,
urged the organization to keep a "vigil by the bedside of a sick world."

"Our vigil cannot be a passive one, waiting for others to do the right
thing," he said. "It must include renewed prophetic injections for the
patient, a patient in danger of losing its very soul." Felder is professor of
New Testament Language & Literature and editor of The Journal of Religious
Thought at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington.



Note: The above is a release from the United Methodist News Service (UMNS). The UMNS can be contacted via e-mail at: newsdesk@umcom.org


Thursday, April 1, 2004

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