By Cheryl Magness
The Black Clergy Caucus (BCC) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) gathered Oct. 10–12, 2023, at Rivercliff Lutheran Church in Sandy Springs, Ga., under the theme “Empowering and Advancing the Next Generation.” During its meeting, which was attended by about 150 people, the BCC focused on a “Five-Point Vision” for the next five years of Black Ministry in the LCMS: Revitalization, Communication, Ministry Focus, Ownership and Recruitment. The conference schedule included:
- Time for worship and fellowship;
- Discussion of the BCC’s Five-Point Vision;
- Conducting of BCC business;
- Planning for the BCC spring conference — to be held April 9–11, 2024, at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW) — and the next Black Ministry Family Convocation (to be held in 2025);
- A bus tour of Atlanta historical sites; and
- Presentations from and dialogue with a variety of Synod representatives, including Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL); CTSFW; the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM); LCMS Black Ministry; Concordia Publishing House; Lutheran Women in Mission; Set Apart to Serve; Lutheran Hour Ministries; and several LCMS districts.
Each area of the BCC’s vision comprises broad goals along with specific actions items related to those goals, including:
- Communication — Keeping the church at large up-to-date with news and issues impacting LCMS Black Ministry;
- Ministry Focus — Creating multi-generational dialogue between church leaders and members to strengthen engagement and outreach;
- Ownership — Encouraging congregations, Black Ministry partners, and other agencies and institutions to support and invest in LCMS Black Ministry;
- Recruitment — Identifying potential church workers and lay leaders and encouraging all in the church to recognize their shared responsibility to recruit laborers for the harvest; and
- Revitalization — Intentionally partnering with congregations, schools, institutions, agencies and others to reach the next generation.
The Rev. Micah Glenn, director of Recruitment for CSL, serves as secretary of the BCC. Glenn said the purpose of the fall conference was “to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ and to talk about Black Ministry today for the sake of the future.”
Glenn continued: “Like many groups within the LCMS, Black Ministry has encountered challenges like declining congregational membership, but we’ve also had many reasons to be thankful and to celebrate God’s gifts.
“In our October meeting, the BCC Executive Committee presented the Caucus with a new capital campaign … focused around five points of ministry as we look toward the 150th anniversary of Black Ministry in the LCMS in 2027. This is an ambitious campaign, but we are confident that the Lord will provide and bless us in this endeavor, and we pray that as more brothers and sisters in Christ around the LCMS become aware of the Black Clergy Caucus … they will come alongside us to ensure the future of Black Ministry within the LCMS.”
The Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray, director of Black Ministry for the LCMS Office of National Mission, was unable to attend the conference for health reasons but sent a letter of welcome to attendees. Gray wrote, “It is critically important for our pastors, leaders and congregations in this 21st century, as Lutheran missionaries, to empower and advance the next generation … as we endeavor to engage communities with the Gospel of Christ.
“It is our prayer and hope that the partnerships with districts, pastors, laity and congregations … will be the catalyst and inspiration for reformation and renewal of proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ to our communities in an ever-changing world with the changeless message of the Gospel of forgiveness, deliverance and eternity for all who believe in Christ as Savior.”
The Rev. James McDaniels, pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church in High Point, N.C., has served as a pastor and chaplain in the LCMS for many years. McDaniels, who earned his associate’s degree from Concordia College New York (CCNY), Bronxville, N.Y., in 1971, recalls being the first African American to sing in CCNY’s touring choir in 1968.
“That year was the first time the choir toured south of the Mason-Dixon line,” McDaniels said. “In his wisdom, [Dr. Ralph Schulz, director of the choir] sent a letter to the congregations the choir was going to visit letting them know there was an African American student in the choir and asking whether that would be a problem for anyone providing housing. Everyone was fine with it except for one neighborhood in South Carolina. That night, Dr. Schulz and I stayed in a Motel 6.”
It is these kinds of experiences, said McDaniels, that are still a part of the fabric of the black experience in the LCMS and the reason Black Ministry needs to remain an ongoing area of focus. It is no secret that, in spite of its long history of outreach to black Americans, particularly through the work of Dr. Rosa J. Young, the LCMS remains a predominantly white church body.
Moreover, McDaniels observes that many of the Synod’s pioneers in Black Ministry are getting older or have passed away — thus the urgent need to raise up future black workers. During the BCC, attendees prayed for Gerald Patrick Coleman, former professor of music at CCNY, who was the second black member of the choir under Schulz. Coleman, who is known for writing hymns such as “The Lamb” (Lutheran Service Book 547), would go on to attend seminary, study at Yale University and return to CCNY to follow Schulz as director of the choir. He died on Oct. 16, 2023, shortly after the BCC concluded.
Yet McDaniels says that, even as Black Ministry pioneers are aging and dying, and LCMS Black Ministry continues to face many challenges — including the demographic one currently facing the Synod as a whole — he is hopeful about the future. He notes the presence of black individuals serving the LCMS in Synodwide, district and circuit positions; the existence of several endowments dedicated to encouraging young black LCMS members to enter church work; and the ongoing work of organizations like the BCC, the Black Ministry Think Tank and the LCMS Southeastern District’s Coalition of Lutherans in Black Ministry. And he looks forward to the BCC’s next gathering on the CTSFW campus, and especially to talking with CTSFW President Rev. Dr. Lawrence J. Rast, who, along with Gray, is working on a history of LCMS Black Ministry.
The ONM was represented at the Black Clergy Caucus by ONM Executive Director Rev. Daniel Galchutt and two ONM managing directors, Deaconess Dr. Tiffany Manor and the Rev. Dr. Mark Wood. Wood, whose ministry area includes LCMS Black Ministry, welcomed the opportunity to engage with leaders in Black Ministry from across the Synod.
“National Mission is committed to continuing our support of Black Ministry in the LCMS,” Wood said. “We know that, for various reasons, how we support Black Ministry in the future will look different than it does today. However, we are confident that as we work together with the Black Clergy Caucus, the needs of Black Ministry will be effectively addressed long beyond the upcoming 150th anniversary of Black Ministry in the LCMS.”
Wood added that, to that end, ONM leaders will be meeting with the Executive Committee of the Black Clergy Caucus in February. “The February meeting provides us with a new opportunity to strengthen our partnership and find innovative ways to better serve black congregations, church workers and communities,” Wood said.
Information about the April 9–11, 2024, conference of the BCC will be posted at lcms.org/black-ministry as it becomes available.
Posted Jan. 2, 2024