By Kevin Armbrust
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it,” said the Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray Jr., director of LCMS Black Ministry, quoting Psalm 118 during the opening Divine Service for the 2022 Black Ministry Family Convocation. Gray served as liturgist for the July 27 service.
“In the Small Catechism, Luther says that we rejoice because our sins are forgiven. We rejoice because our name is written in the Lamb’s book of life,” Gray said.
From July 27 to 30, more than 240 people, including 63 children, gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church in Mobile, Ala., under the theme “Empowering the Next Generation.” Another 22 participated online. The convocation was the fruit of work done by the Black Clergy Caucus, LCMS Black Ministry and the Black Ministry Think Tank.
Unity in Christ
“We are here by faith. We are here with no fear,” said the Rev. Gregory Manning, pastor of Broadmoor Community Church in New Orleans, during his sermon for the opening service. “Sometimes in life when you are going along, you have to stop and thank God. … Being at this convocation is like being at a family reunion.”
Manning noted that much had occurred since the last convocation in 2017, including the closing of Concordia College Alabama, Selma, Ala., and the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting the convocation’s theme, Manning asked if there were any “Joshuas” present — those who will take up the mantle of Moses for the next generation.
“Our children are under attack by the enemy and the world,” Manning said. “We proclaim that the Lord saves. And that is the salvation our children need. We need to be faithful to the Word, and our children need us to pray for them and to be faithful like Joshua.”
High school student Bryson Reuben served as crucifer and sang in the choir for the opening service. “My grandma made sure to get me and my brother involved [in church] at a young age. … It’s somewhere I want to be and need to be. Jesus can help me with anything. If you take time out of your day to talk to Him, to read your Bible … it’s good.”
The gathering gave many an opportunity to discuss Black Ministry in the Synod and consider its heritage and importance in the church’s life together. “You are on holy ground,” said the Rev. Dr. Ulmer Marshall, pastor of Trinity. “Of the 35 or so churches and schools that Rosa Young started, we are the only one that is still standing. To God be the glory.”
“We’ve got 22 historic black congregations in our district,” said the Rev. Eric Johnson, president of the LCMS Southern District. “We are … walking together, and I want to see all of us working together in ministry. … There are cultural issues that we have to address and be aware of … but our unity is Christ.”
Two other district presidents also addressed the convocation. The Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford, president of the LCMS Minnesota South District, brought greetings in the name of Jesus from the saints in Minnesota, saying, “I look forward to partnering with you in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Rev. Mike Gibson, president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District, said, “Nothing matters more than the next generation. Tell the next generation.”
At the morning service on July 28, the Rev. Dr. McNair Ramsey, first vice-president of the LCMS Southern District, preached on Psalm 145:4, addressing the convocation theme. “What are you going to tell them? Tell them about a God who created the earth. Tell them about a God who formed man from the earth and woman from man. Tell them that He is a mighty God. Tell them about the redemption He worked for us. Tell them about Jesus,” said Ramsey.
“Come on, moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas,” Ramsey continued. “Fill our churches with the next generation. I’m so grateful for God’s goodness that I want others to know Him. I want to tell everyone about Jesus. Do you know my Jesus? If so, then tell the next generation about Jesus.”
Recruiting the next generation
The convocation focused on five objectives to empower the next generation: recruitment, communication, ownership, ministry focus and revitalization. These objectives also shaped the conversation and work of the Black Ministry Think Tank, which hosted an open meeting on July 28.
Gray introduced the open meeting by noting that the LCMS is still 95% white. “We need to get the message of the Gospel out to people of color,” he said.
The Rev. Paul Anderson, a member of the think tank and pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Oak Lawn, Ill., said, “Black congregations in the LCMS are in crisis. Perhaps the whole LCMS is facing crisis. Our seminaries are not graduating people of color. Our congregations are not recruiting people of color to be church workers.” He emphasized that this is not just a past or current problem but one that affects the Synod’s future.
“It seems the time is coming when there will not be a Lutheran presence in communities that have known the blessings of the Lutheran church for many decades,” Anderson continued. “In our church body we need to change some thinking to make sure our thinking is ministry thinking.”
Think tank member Kaye Wolff, a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Dearborn, Mich., discussed church worker recruitment. “We need more church workers in our Synod, especially people of color. We need to recruit them. We need to be on the front line to assist the colleges and seminaries to identify those who could be church workers.
“That means you. Every mom, dad, grandma, grandpa and current church worker. … We need to invite those children over for dinner and care for them. … Can we reach out to our youth? We can bless them as we have been blessed to serve in the church.” Wolff encouraged involving youth in service. “They can assist with newsletters, work alongside people … shadow elders and pastors.”
Other sessions explored strategic planning, congregational best practices, financial planning, technology, Lutheran education and the role of music in worship as the vehicle of God’s Word. Youth and children learned about their faith and enjoyed fellowship under the direction of the Rev. Amos Gray IV and several other adults.
The convocation’s core message, empowering the next generation, means proclaiming the Good News of Christ. “We need to hear freedom again,” said Manning. “The freedom of coming to church and hearing the Gospel. On the cross the blood of Jesus washed us clean and sets us free.”
Gray encouraged the convocation with Romans 1:1, where Paul says that he has been “set apart for the gospel of God.” Gray called for the current generation to engage, encourage and empower the next generation with that Gospel, that all might know, confess and serve Christ.
Posted Aug. 22, 2022