By Paula Schlueter Ross
SELMA, Ala. — Placing a full-time director of black ministry at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis — who can speak on behalf of those serving in black ministries and “sit at the table” with representatives of other national LCMS ministries — remains the number-one priority of the Synod’s Black Clergy Caucus. Some 40 caucus members met Feb. 4-7 here under the theme “Pressing On.”
At last year’s caucus meeting, also in Selma, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison told the group that his office was “ready to move” on a search to find a candidate for the post. Since then, a position description was posted and nominations were received.
But when contacted by LCMS Human Resources staff, most of those nominees removed their names from consideration, leaving “very few” individuals to consider, according to Val Rhoden-Kimbrough, who directs that office and addressed this year’s caucus meeting along with Harrison and the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission.
Rhoden-Kimbrough said the biggest challenge was finding nominees who were willing to relocate to St. Louis.
In his presentation during a “Black Ministry Summit” at the caucus meeting, Harrison said he did not agree with closing the Board for Black Ministry Services — a result of restructuring resolutions adopted at the 2010 LCMS convention that eliminated a total of seven program boards — “but that’s where we are.”
He suggested creating a “president’s council” on black ministry, which could help assure that LCMS leaders are listening to black congregations and consider ways to better support them as they work to share the Gospel.
“What are the priorities?” Harrison asked. “You tell us.”
Harrison added that he would like to have some voice for black ministry “in place” by next year’s caucus meeting.
Day said he has all of his “direct reports” for the National Mission office moving forward in the new structure “and nobody from black ministry is at the table.” He asked caucus members for their help in finding “the best strategy” for black ministry — whether it should involve a single, St. Louis-based position or a system of regional representatives.
“There are tons of opportunities to have black ministry involved in all” areas of his office, he said, which oversees all domestic work of the Synod. And, he added, significant funding is available that those in black ministry have not yet requested.
In discussions that followed, the group:
- crafted the first draft of a black-ministry mission statement: “To have an entity in place to deliver resources to those concerned about and involved in black Lutheran churches and actively participating in the mission of the LCMS.”
- read aloud the position description for the full-time black-ministry director and shared the names of those who were nominated last year for the post.
The Rev. Dr. Bryant Clancy called for both a black-ministry executive and the establishment of a president’s council for black ministry. Clancy, who retired as executive director of the black-ministry board in 2002, recalled how hard it was for him to accept a call to the Southeastern District in 1982, when he was serving what he considered “the best” congregation in the Synod (Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Charlotte, N.C.) and did not want to leave. He finally decided that he could do more for black ministry as a district executive than as a parish pastor.
“Jeremiah couldn’t walk away” from God’s call to be a prophet, Clancy said, encouraging his peers to hear God’s call and answer it for the good of LCMS black ministry.
The Rev. James Wiggins Jr. said he agreed that a black-ministry director was needed. “God didn’t call committees — He called a person” when He had a task in mind, Wiggins said.
- concurred with filling a full-time director of black ministry position, and identified a list of nominees to submit to the LCMS Office of the President for consideration.
- agreed to pursue a “president’s council” for black ministry in cooperation with the LCMS Office of the President.
- endorsed the establishment of four committees — to increase the recruitment of black church workers; to facilitate the nomination of blacks to LCMS positions; to invite African immigrants to join the caucus and work alongside those in LCMS black ministries; and to support the Brother to Brother program, which provides encouragement and financial support to black pastors who are facing difficulties in their ministries.
“I think we had some good discussion, honest discussion, and made some progress,” said the Rev. Donald E. Anthony, caucus chairman, who encouraged the group’s approval of the four new committees.
- supported launching a Facebook page (which was set up during the caucus meeting as the “Association of Lutherans in Black Ministry — LCMS”) to share information and continue conversations about black ministry in the Synod.
Addressing the caucus, the Rev. James McDaniels, a member of the LCMS Specialized Pastoral Ministry Advisory Committee, explained the need for more black pastors to take Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) courses to prepare them for service in institutional settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes.
LCMS Specialized Pastoral Ministry, he said, will pay tuition for African-American ordained and commissioned ministers who enroll in CPE courses and will provide a grant to reimburse their congregations for one day of their salary each week during CPE training. For more information, contact McDaniels via email at email@example.com.
In his presentation that addressed the question “What is the state of black ministry?” long-time black-ministry leader Rev. Dr. Frazier Odom said he could answer that question in one sentence: “We’re in serious trouble.”
Churches, especially in urban areas, are closing, he said, and he asked, “What are we going to do about it?”
Odom introduced two resolutions to be submitted to the 2014 Black Ministry Family Convocation and possibly to an upcoming national LCMS convention: to launch a three-year, $3 million “Black Ministry Thankoffering” that would provide funding to train professional church workers for black ministries, and to celebrate the 150th anniversary of black ministry in the LCMS in 2027.
Odom, who said he is “75 years old and counting,” noted that “most of us here today introduced ourselves as ‘retired,'” and he underscored the need to recruit new workers “to lead black ministry” in the future. He asked caucus members to take the proposed resolutions back to their home congregations and “get their responses.”
The Rev. Michael J. Redeker, senior vice-president for enrollment management at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, described the seminary’s new “Mission Shift” program that encourages seminarians, pastors and LCMS congregation members to serve — and help empower — inner-city ministries (www.missionshiftstl.org).
Redeker added that the seminary wants to recruit more African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics to serve as pastors, particularly as church planters and in urban areas. He urged caucus members to spread the word about the seminary’s King Endowment Fund that provides tuition dollars for black students. He shared information about “iTunes U” (www.itunes.csl.edu), which provides sermon helps and other resources free of charge.
Redeker said he “wants to be intentional about diversity” and “will try to get rid of roadblocks” that keep minorities from completing seminary studies.
Concordia College Alabama President Rev. Dr. Tilahun Mendedo provided a brief update, saying that current enrollment is “close to projection” and “better than last year,” but is still “a big challenge” because of competition from other area schools that offer more programs of study at a lower tuition.
Mendedo said a recent review of Concordia, Selma, by the Alabama State Department of Education resulted in a grade of 99.8 percent, and the college is continuing work to improve and maintain the quality of its educational programs.
In his report on the next Black Ministry Family Convocation, Clancy said the event will be held in Kansas City in the summer of 2014. He added that Day has offered “the full weight” of the LCMS Office of National Mission to help plan and support the convocation, which gives black Lutherans and those involved in black ministries an opportunity to come together to conduct business, hear speakers and take part in worship and fellowship activities.
Also addressing the caucus was Sanya Parson, program director for Rebecca’s Garden of Hope, a tutoring and mentoring program that addresses the immediate needs of at-risk youth in the areas of education, health and spirituality. The Orlando, Fla.-based ministry recently received LCMS Recognized Service Organization status.
With one student dropping out of American high schools every 26 seconds and literacy alarmingly low (only 14 percent of eighth-grade black students are proficient in reading), Parson said “something very simple [such as teaching reading] can make a dramatic change in a child’s life.”
“Every single congregation [represented] here ought to have a tutoring and mentoring program,” she said.
“If we don’t reach out and invite these families in,” Parson added, “our churches and schools will continue to close.”
She encouraged caucus members to contact Rebecca’s Garden for more information about starting an after-school program (call 407-273-0101 or visit www.rebeccasgardenofhope.org).
Other ideas that surfaced during the meeting included:
- encouraging — and providing funds for — retired pastors to share their knowledge and experience with congregations and pastors who need help in their ministries.
- finding out how to bring back the quarterly black-ministry newsletter, Timeline, which ceased publication as a result of restructuring.
- encouraging more black Lutherans to serve as chaplains and missionaries, including taking part in “overseas mercy trips.”
- holding next year’s caucus meeting in St. Louis, in conjunction with Concordia Seminary’s Multi-Ethnic Symposium, planned for Jan. 27-28.
Clancy said he considered the four-day meeting “one of those turning-point caucuses where things really fall in place in terms of what you want to do and how you want to do it.”
He said he is confident that whoever is called as director of black ministry “will consider it, and I’m encouraged by that — it’s exciting.” He added that he expects the position to be filled “right away, in three or four months,” because “the president has said, ‘Let’s move,’ and this group said, ‘Let’s do it.’ “
Anthony told Reporter he is “thankful for the spirit in which this caucus met. We began the meeting around the theme ‘Pressing On’ with the intent of honestly listening for God to speak to us and honestly sharing with one another our concerns and our hopes.”
A highlight, he said, “was the dialogue that we were able to have with [LCMS President Rev.] Dr. Harrison. We have the assurance from the president’s office that no matter how much our structure has changed, there is the commitment from the national office to be supportive of black ministry as well as to being open for direction from the members of the black Lutheran church.”
The Rev. Lloyd Gaines, director of multi-cultural ministries and mission and ministry facilitator for the LCMS Southeastern District, described the meeting as “productive. We got honest communication with the [LCMS] president and Bart Day — and with each other — about what direction we want to take” in black ministry.
“The decision to have a full-time director [of black ministry] was the right direction for us, as we want to be at the table with the other components of the Synod.”
Said Gaines: “I thought it ended in a high spirit for the group, and we’re leaving with joy for the journey.”
Posted Feb. 28, 2013