National Black Presbyterian Caucus responds to the signs of the times

Leaders in service, mission, justice, peace and worship honored

July 21, 2015

The Rev. Shanea Leonard speaks at the National Black Presbyterian Caucus.

The Rev. Shanea Leonard speaks at the National Black Presbyterian Caucus. —Bill Reinhold

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Keynote speakers and workshop leaders from across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) came together at the 2015 National Black Presbyterian Caucus to educate participants with responsive actions, equip them with methods to reconnect to God and one another, and to empower implementation in local churches and communities.

With a background text from scripture reminding participants that "in the last days distressing times will come" (2 Timothy 3:1), the caucus encouraged Presbyterians to continue to learn various ways of responding to the ever-changing landscape of the modern world.

“It’s important that participants walk away from this event educated, equipped and empowered to respond to the signs of the times, based on individual human experiences, as well as climate, cultural and societal changes, and the action of being a collective Christian witness while being transformative in the world,” noted the Rev. Dr. Arlene Gordon, president of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus.

Leadership from across the denomination—including Heath Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014), the Rev. Rhashell Hunter director of Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries, the Rev. Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission, the Rev. Sara Lisherness, the Rev. Betty Meadows, General Presbyter of Charlotte Presbytery, and the Rev. Bill Reinhold, General Presbytery and Stated Clerk from Coastal Carolina Presbytery, also participated in the event, each bringing greetings and thanks for the work of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus.

“The gifts and leadership from black Presbyterians have been, and still are, major contributions to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” said Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly.

Amid a variety of workshops and educational sessions, attendees paused to recognize leaders from across the church. At the Pioneer Luncheon (formerly known as the Lucy Craft Laney luncheon), held on Friday, July 10, Janice Baldwin Henry was honored as the Lucy Craft Laney awardee for her outstanding witness and service. A lifelong Presbyterian, Henry taught for 40 years, and has held positions at the local, presbytery and synod levels of the PC(USA). She served as Moderator of PWP Tropical Florida, and presently serves as ruling elder at Ascension Peace Presbyterian Church and as president of the South Florida chapter of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus.

Dr. Darius L. Swann and Dr. Vera Poe Swann receive the Maria Fearing award.

Dr. Darius L. Swann and Dr. Vera Poe Swann receive the Maria Fearing award. —Bill Reinhold

Dr. Darius L. Swann and his wife Dr. Vera Poe Swann together were honored with the Maria Fearing award for their commitment to education and mission work in the PC(USA). Both alumni of Johnson C. Smith University, the two are educators, missionaries, writers and civil rights activists. The couple founded the Maria Fearing Fund, which was established to promote spiritual growth, education and cultural exchanges between and among African people on the continent and those in the diaspora.

Later that evening during the Honoree Dinner, Dr. Melva Wilson Costen was honored with the Edler G. Hawkins award for her commitment to activism and education. Dr. Costen has written several books on Christian worship, served as chair of the Presbyterian Hymnal Committee. She also contributed several original hymns to the newest edition of the Presbyterian Hymnal, which was published in 2013.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, the director of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., was honored with the Drum Major for Justice Award for his passionate commitment to the biblical principles of justice.

The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, pastor and founder of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, one of the new worshipping communities in Pittsburgh, Penn., was honored with the Innovation in Ministry award for her work to eradicate systemic oppression in the areas of race, gender and sexual orientation.

Presbyterian World Mission and NBPC also signed a historic covenant aimed at strengthening World Mission’s recruitment among African-American Presbyterians for service as mission co-workers and Young Adult Volunteers around the world during the biennial convention.

To learn more about the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, please visit www.nationalnbpc.org.