By the Rev. Maidstone Mulenga*
CHICAGO (UMNS) — A new Black Methodists for Church Renewal was born Friday, March 15, 2013, when members attending the 2013 annual meeting approved a major restructure of the official caucus that advocates for Black Methodists in The United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, who chaired the task force that worked on the restructuring, urged the members to be daring enough to confront the future. Bridgeforth is the Los Angeles District Superintendent in the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference.
Members voted to eliminate the use of “national” and limit the use of “African-American” tags from literature and promotions and to use “BMCR” in terms that reflect the greater diversity of the denomination. In approving the change, the caucus is taking a stand to be intentionally inclusive through effectively implementing its organizational purpose, goals and objectives.
“In order to remain relevant, we must readily acknowledge and intentionally build linkages beyond the shores of the United States of America for the cause of justice in every place and for all people,” the restructuring proposal said.
General meeting instead of annual
Among the major changes approved in the restructuring plan was to change from an annual meeting to a general meeting. According to the new plan, the general meeting will be in collaboration with other agencies and entities that could strengthen BMCR’s presence and voice.
“There is a residual and relational effect of programs with that emphasis, and BMCR is positioned to partner with those entities and rely on their expertise and resources to help with congregational and leadership development. BMCR needs to partner more with COSROW, GCORR, GBCS and community-based groups who share our values,” the plan stated. The references are to two other United Methodist commissions and a United Methodist general agency — the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the Commission on Religion and Race, and the Board of Church and Society.
The members approved a plan for the next meeting to be in 2015, ahead of the next United Methodist General Conference, but far enough in the future for the board of directors to give attention to the transition plan and re-organization.
The restructuring plan calls for the general meetings to be centered on building partnerships and calling The United Methodist Church to a place of greater accountability in areas of justice and equality for all people instead of emphasizing fundraising.
The members asked the board to be more proactively engaged in the jurisdictions in years when there is not a general meeting of the membership.
The members also removed the budget and costs for the general meeting from the operating budget and asked the program committee to generate a budget for each meeting that will make the meeting pay for itself. The membership meeting has been in place in the past to fund the overall operation but has not done so. “It (the previous form of budgeting) skews the budget that ends up being supplemented by several external entities without expanding the brand or advocacy core to BMCR,” the plan noted.
Advocacy planning for the jurisdictions
In terms of programming, the Black Methodists voted to assist each jurisdiction in establishing advocacy and training initiatives in the years when there is no general meeting. They also approved the creation of BMCR Advocacy Councils throughout the connection.
Members agreed that BMCR did not have a comprehensive or responsive mechanism in place to share issues and respond to them in a timely fashion. By creating a network that reports up-and-down-and-around the connection in an open forum, the hope of the members is to create “buzz” and a flow of information that to be used to inform agendas in annual conference, jurisdictional caucuses and in the general meeting.
As part of the programming, members agreed to establish a revitalized Harambe Program and to work in collaboration with the Division on Young People and other partners to accomplish this task. Every other year, BMCR sponsors the Youth Harambee, an event whose purpose is to be a celebration of gifts, talents and willing hearts of ethnic United Methodist youth.
BMCR also voted to request regular reports from the top executives of the church agencies.
New officers selected
The Rev. Bridgeforth, district superintendent of the Los Angeles District in the California Pacific Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church, was elected chair of the Black Methodists for Renewal during the annual meeting.
As chair, Bridgeforth takes over from the Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow, who could not run again because of term limits. Miller-Yow is a full elder in the Arkansas Conference.
Deborah Bell was elected vice chair. Bell is the director of Community Development for Better Community Development Inc. of Little Rock, Ark.. Two board members were elected unopposed: the Rev. Danita Anderson as secretary and Angella Current-Felder as treasurer. Anderson is a pastor at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Homewood, IL, while Current-Felder is a well-known Methodist author.
Michelle Whittaker, director of communications and new media for the Board of Church and Society; the Rev. Jacqui Rose-Tucker, Rome-Carrollton District Superintendent in the North Georgia Conference, and the Rev. Paul Thibodeaux, associate pastor at St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., were elected to the board to fill lay and clergy slots.
Earlier in the week, Sally L. Vonner, an executive with United Methodist Women, was elected president of the National Black Staff Forum of The United Methodist Church. The forum is dedicated to serving the needs of black staff working for the denomination’s boards, agencies, conferences, jurisdictions and districts.
The full slate of new officers for National Black Staff Forum includes: Vice President: Maidstone Mulenga, Upper New York Annual (regional) Conference; Treasurer: Bobby Smith, General Council on Finance and Administration; Assistant Treasurer: Jeri Lillian McKie, Board of Global Ministries; Secretary: Marva Usher-Kerr, United Methodist Women; Assistant Secretary: Michelle Whittaker, Board of Church and Society; Chair, Program Committee: Royya James, United Methodist Communications; Chair, Communication: Rori Blakeney, Board of Discipleship – Young People; Chair, Nominating Committee: Elaine Jenkins, Africa University Development Office; Chaplain, Co-Chaplains: Gloria Brown, East Ohio Annual (regional) Conference and Lekisha Reed, Indiana Annual (regional) Conference.
*Rev. Mulenga is the director of communications for the Upper New York Annual Conference. Contact him at email@example.com or (585) 455-5683.