As the 40th convention of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus drew to a close, members gathered for food, fellowship, music and a look toward the future.
The Edler Hawkins Banquet, Aug. 1, was named for a Presbyterian pastor who was active in the African American community. Born in 1938, Hawkins was involved in the Urban League and the Bronx, NY, chapter of the NAACP. He was the first African American to serve as moderator for the United Presbyterian Church.
At the banquet, Warren McNeill, outgoing treasurer of the NBPC, called the convention, which focused on the African American Church Growth Strategy, “highly successful.”
“We leave here energized about the growth that is needed in the African American church,” he said.
One example of growth was evident at the banquet, where the NBPC’s first Youth Council presented its goals and mission.
Dawn of a New Era (DONE) aims to make itself known throughout regions and presbyteries, coordinate outreach programs, train committees on ways to spread God’s word and develop a Web site. DONE aims to work under three mottos:
- Don’t be fed up with it. Be DONE with it.
- DONE but never finished.
- Ever since the beginning, we were DONE from the start.
After the presentation from the Youth Council, attendees heard from the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly.
Reyes-Chow told of his days in seminary, where he felt that he already possessed all the skills of a good preacher. He talked of one Sunday where he thought he’d given an exceptionally great sermon and was basking in his own glory. That ended when he heard from one member of the congregation, who said, “My, what a big voice for such a little man.”
Just as he needed to be reminded that he doesn’t know it all, Reyes-Chow said the church has fallen into similar traps, often believing that authority and theology are found in just one session, one congregation, one preaching style.
“The way that we’re going to grow ... is to know that we’re going to experience God in a variety of places,” he said. “I think as Presbyterians, we are wise enough to figure that out.”
Reyes-Chow said he’s seen that variety in recent visits to three Presbyterian colleges: Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA; Warren Wilson College and Stillman College. Westminster has a largely upper-middle class enrollment, Warren Wilson has a heavy focus on ecology, and Stillman College, where the NBPC met, is a historically black college. The three schools are drastically different, but all have ties to the PC(USA), he said.
The book of Ephesians gives a broad idea of what it means to be church, Reyes-Chow said. The NBPC convention focused on Ephesians 4:11-12: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
One of the best parts of the NBPC conferences is seeing the impact of those who paved the way for current leaders, Reyes-Chow said.
This is an important lesson to remember, especially when talking about young people in the church, he said.
“We need to remind ourselves of the people who have come before and opened doors instead of closing things off,” he said, adding that younger people can feel unwelcome in church when their clothes, music and culture are criticized. “‘We want you here, but we don’t want you here,’” he said.
With changing times, older people need to move into a new way of being. This should not be seen as a sacrifice, but as a response to the love shown by God.
“Receive joy from giving up,” Reyes-Chow said. “We can pretend things are the same they were 10, 15, 20 years ago, but it’s not.”
Welcoming younger people isn’t about increasing membership — it’s about being the church of Jesus Christ, about offering a place of peace, about a desire to meet the divine, he said.
“My hope is ... you and I will open ourselves to what God has in store,” he said. “As young as you may be, as old as you may be, God is never done with us.”