After an afternoon of opening sessions and an initial opportunity for participants to greet and reunite with friends and colleagues from across the country last Thursday, attendees at the 40th convention of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus joined together for the opening worship service at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, adjacent to Stillman College’s campus, where the convention was held July 30-Aug. 2.
The Rev. Gregory Bentley, pastor of Brown Memorial and president of NBPC, welcomed the worshippers.
“NBPC is the premiere advocacy group within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” he said. We “lift up the (African American) church growth strategy to re-invigorate and re-vitalize our congregations.”
The PC(USA)’s African American Church Growth strategy — approved by last year’s 218th General Assembly — was a central focus of the biennial meeting.
The prayers and words of welcome were complemented with choir selections from the NBPC choir, hymns sung by the congregation and a solo guitar performance.
The Rev. Chineta Goodjoin, organizing pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange, CA, offered worshippers words of contemplation and inspiration for the four-day gathering during her sermon, “Gathered in Faith,” centered on Ephesians 4: 11-12.
Weaving together scripture, personal experience and a call to community, Goodjoin began her sermon with thanksgiving.
“Thanks for giving us the spirit of togetherness,” she said. “Tonight I want to define what survival looks like in a time of scarcity.”
She acknowledged the current economic challenges and other challenges facing mainline denominations, the PC(USA) and African American congregations of the PC(USA).
As she continued her message, the theme of recognizing abundance in the face of scarcity emerged.
“My friends, it is time to gather in — in prayer, to support (each other), to show humility before God,” she charged the worshippers.
Continuing, she called them to create “a collaborative vision of hope (that) can sprout through the scarcity.”
The phrase “time to gather in” rang as a refrain in the sermon. Goodjoin, a native of Gaffney, SC, recounted a childhood story of playing with cousins at her grandmother’s house. When summer rains and thunderstorms would roll in, Goodjoin’s grandmother would call the children to “gather in before the storm came.”
With poetic detail, Goodjoin re-created the childhood memory of waiting out the storm inside her grandmother’s house.
“We gathered in to be reverent before God,” Goodjoin said. “We gathered in love. ... We would build peace in midst of the storm.”
She extended her family experience to the community gathered for worship.
“People of faith are always in community; (they) are not isolated,” she said, “It’s time to set a strategy for positive change,” she urged those gathered in fully filled rows in the sanctuary. “It’s time to gather in hope, prayer, and (to) love each other.