John Coleman photo.

BMCR supports higher education, hurricane relief

By the Rev. Shayla L. Johnson*
Chairperson, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Philadelphia Caucus 

The Eastern PA Conference caucus that represents African American members and churches has been actively supporting education and disaster response in 2019.  

Philadelphia Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) and Black UM Preachers (BUMP) awarded scholarships to new collegians at their joint annual scholarship luncheon, June 22. While these luncheons have been held at the Conference Center in Audubon in recent years, we decided to return this year to a local church setting. The site was Eastwick UMC in Philadelphia. 

Shayla Johnson photo.

Scholarship awardees Christian Neal and Nahema Maruis are both members of Eastwick UMC. 

Neal is a graduate of Upper Darby High School and will attend the Culinary Institute of America in the fall. He plans to travel the world in his career to experience food in different cultures. Then as a chef, he wants to open a black-owned restaurant for fine dining. 

Maruis is a graduate of George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science in Philadelphia. She will attend Clark Atlanta University, a United Methodist-related institution supported by our apportionments through the Black College Fund. 

Maruis will study fashion merchandising and cosmetology. She plans to add needed diversity to the field of design merchandising and also teach young African Americans skills needed for job opportunities in media.  She wants to make “a positive difference in the fashion industry” by changing cultural trends. It is also her dream to have her own fashion and cosmetics lines.

We decided to have the luncheon at a local black church to allow more caucus members and supporters of the scholarship recipients to attend, along with conference leaders. Bishop Peggy Johnson and members of our Cabinet joined us, as they do every year.

Bishop Johnson, who met with our caucus in March, gifted a prayer cube to those in attendance and encouraged the young scholars to always faithfully pray. She gave them a guiding message to pray, praise God, and give thanks at all times. 

She advised them to confess and forgive sins, and to pray for others and for themselves, knowing “that God cares about every little thing concerning you. Always shine your marvelous light. Dream something impossible and be the powerful person you were born to be in Jesus Christ.” 

We also heard from 2017 BMCR/BUMP scholarship recipient Jade Jefferson of Eastwick UMC. She reminded graduates of the following:

  • God is always on your side. He will never leave you or forsake you.
  • Remember to pray.
  • Apply and push yourself, knowing you are there for a purpose.
  • Take your time.
  • Know it’s OK that things may not go exactly as you planned. God’s plan is greater and better.

The pastor of both scholars, the Rev. Tracy Duncan, expressed her excitement for them, anticipating where God will take them on their journey in life through their gifts. The Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Superintendent of the South District, shared a story about her daughter: that she was once lifted up on the shoulders of a parent to shoot a basketball into a basket, and later when she grew up, she in turn lifted up a child from the neighborhood to achieve the same goal.  

Her message to the graduates was simply to remember those that support and lift them up, so that they too will lift and raise up others on the journey. 

In my remarks, I encouraged the new collegians to take their time, trust in God and allow themselves to listen, be open and receive what God is saying to them. We assured them and their single parents that we will always be here to support them. So they should never feel alone on their journey.  

We also acknowledged the successful accomplishments of the Rev. Olivet Brown and the Rev. Eric Carr Jr., who were both recently ordained as elders in the conference, and Kenneth Woodson, who graduated this year from Lutheran Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. 

BMCR offered another type of educational support to our communities June 1: financial literacy. 

About 40 people from various churches attended a forum at Mother African Zoar UMC in Philadelphia, provided by experts in the financial community. 

Shayla Johnson photo.

Panelists came from the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals. Together, they worked through a challenging case study to provide helpful information and insights using real-life examples. They touched on financial circumstances many residents may face—or should face—related to wills, estates, beneficiaries, executors, power of attorney, changes in tax laws, Medicare options, home equity, caretaker responsibilities, Social Security and more. 

Former Conference Chair of Trustees Alvin Kingcade, a financial consultant and retirement planning specialist, organized the forum in collaboration with BMCR and Mother African Zoar.

Many participants shared their life situations, which led to engaging conversations for the whole group and allowed them to receive suggestions after the workshop. The two main takeaways from the workshop were to share information by educating others and “If you want to add value to your life, volunteer for something bigger than a check.” (Dean Vance, CPA)

As part of its own commitment to financial stewardship and mission, BMCR raised funds in 2018 to respond to the historic damage and destruction caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017. Surpassing its goal, the caucus raised and donated $1,500 total to BMCR caucus leaders in the Southeast and South Central jurisdictions to help churches severely damaged there and to the Eastern PA Conference’s campaign to help the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico with its recovery efforts there.

At the National BMCR General Meeting in April, the Rev. Shayla Johnson presents hurricane recovery assistance donations raised by Philadelphia BMCR to (from left): the Rev. Byron Thomas, Southeastern Jurisdiction BMCR president; and the Rev. Michael Bowie, South Central Jurisdiction BMCR president. John Coleman photos

As Philadelphia BMCR chair I presented donation checks to grateful SEJ and SCJ BMCR chairpersons during their jurisdictional meetings April 3 at the 52nd national caucus’ General Meeting in Atlanta.

For 2019-2020 BMCR will focus on supporting local mission work happening in communities surrounding our member churches. And we will continue to encourage and support higher education opportunities among our talented young people. 

*The Rev. Shayla L. Johnson is the pastor of Mother African Zoar UMC in Philadelphia