Reflections on BMCR’s 51st General Meeting

Meeting Theme: The Journey Continues: Celebrating Our Faith, Hope and Renewal

By the Rev. Shayla Johnson
BMCR Philadelphia Coordinator

The 51st General Meeting of National Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR), March 13-17, in Sacramento, Calif., drew a smaller attendance than the 500 who came to the 2017, 50th anniversary meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. About 162 registered persons attended this year’s meeting, where there was less pomp and circumstance but nonetheless, important matters and decisions to consider, along with celebrative worship and fellowship.

During our Northeastern Jurisdictional caucus session (for those of us able to escape the fourth Nor’easter), Bishop Cynthia Moore Koi-Koi informed us that the General Council on Finance & Administration (GCFA) will begin withdrawing denominational support from all BMCR caucuses, a loss of an estimated $125,000 a year. That decision resulted in our reinitiating the BMCR Sunday campaign that started Feb. 4.

Not just BMCR but all racial-ethnic UM caucuses must become self-sustaining in the next quadrennium. It has been strongly suggested and encouraged that BMCR be a line item in every African American church budget.

Our jurisdiction (NEJ) thus far is number 1 in having submitted the most towards the BMCR Sunday campaign, with several churches in our region having contributed funds to the national caucus. BMCR Sunday should be recognized every year going forward to assist in sustaining the missions and ministry work of the organization.

In the meeting, we were also urged to send letters and make calls to General Conference delegates about BMCR’s concerns. Particularly, we asked to contribute our voices to the Council of Bishops deliberations, as it decides on the final report of its Way Forward Commission and prepares to make recommendations for the future policies of the UM church to the Special General Conference in February 2019.

We need to engage in this conversation with our local churches. An in-depth report on the Way Forward Commission was given at the BMCR General Meeting. Presenters offered pointers on how to engage in this conversation locally and a breakdown of the models being reviewed that may go before the Special General Conference for an adoption vote.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the host California-Nevada Conference set a tone in the opening worship by reminding us of two key things. “There is no retirement in ministry, because ministry is a lifetime commitment,” she said. And, “From Jesus we expect help and from us Jesus expects leadership.”

The Rev. Antoine Love, BMCR vice-chair, reflected that as a people of faith, our journey continues to the next level now and for generations to come, and that it will look different than our present. But we must exercise our faith in God in the wilderness.

Meeting attendees also engaged in the preached word from Bishop Jonathan Keaton (retired) and in song and the annual sharing of Holy Communion. Many were blessed by the “Who Are You?” Bible study led by the Rev. Theon Johnson III. And we witnessed the unveiling of the new Black Heritage stamp featuring celebrated singer Lena Horne.

Four workshops were offered on:

  • Being Difference-Makers in Action,
  • Leading through Pain and Social Trauma,
  • Practices of Self-Care for the Aging, and
  • Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Appointments and Awareness.

It was a blessing to witness and be a part of raising over $21,000 in 45 minutes to benefit the Dillard University Choir during the Black College Fund luncheon (an annual BMCR General Meeting event celebrating our denomination-supported HBCUs).

As expected throughout the meeting, there was much recollection on the history of BMCR and what our purpose is, just as there were many conversations, speeches and sermons about our desire and need to be relevant. Yet, I did not see or experience any substantial steps taken that spoke to that desire and need.

Frankly, as an aging young adult, I was disappointed by the lack of inclusion of young adults in the workshops, the absence of social media, and the missed opportunities to connect and bring in more young adults. For example, there was an assumption that everyone still carries checkbooks and cash to give to offerings.

Most importantly, I witnessed a failure to establish a clear, collective voice stating our positions, or even conversations that could lead to us taking a stand on issues critical to our African Americans churches and to our denomination.

Many other organizations have taken directions or even been developed because of BMCR. Yet, our local caucuses are unable to take direction from National BMCR, because there was no direction clearly stated for us to take back to our local caucuses—except that “we need to be relevant.” I asked myself as a member, as a local caucus coordinator, and as an African American young adult clergyperson “Relevant for what and for whom, and why?”

We are Black Methodists for Church Renewal. So, I pose to you the same question the Rev. Theon Johnson III asked us during our BMCR Bible study: “What are we willing to risk for renewal?”

Are we really ready to go to the next level—to the place where we need to be bold, have encouragement, face opposition, leave behind the familiar and walk into our brighter, unknown future?