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Formation + Nurture + Leadership = Mission

I was a student in a class summer 2007 at Memphis Theological Seminary entitled “African Spiritual Wisdom.”  We explored the wisdom found from Africa in storytelling, rhythm, and dances.  The class was taught by Masankho Banda, who grew up in Mali, West Africa. 

Banda took students into a deep understanding of African family life.  As days, weeks, months and almost three years have gone by I have reflected upon my experiences of learning about the essence of storytelling, the power of communication found in drums, and even learning how to dance in a new way.  The reflections became more meaningful as we planned for the Connectional Youth and Young Adult Conferences of 2008 because they were amplified by the weekly and sometimes daily calls inquiring about children’s ministry at the conferences in Orlando.  All of the calls revolved around people wanting the entire family to come, including parents and grandparents. 

At our leadership team meeting in October 2007 an intense discussion was brought to crescendo when one of our team members strongly protested against our not being open to all children at the conferences.  The energetic gentleman who began the conversation was reminded why we have children’s ministry at the young adult conference.  The then General Secretary, and now Bishop Ronald Cunningham, opened it in 1996 to provide a way for young adults to bring their children with them.  Then, as it is now, the space was limited.   Since that time we have tried to accommodate 150-200 children at each young adult conference, but we have not attempted a children’s conference in conjunction with our present conferences.  It would require a different type of circumstances and planning. 

However, I believe so strongly children should be included that I personally reminded the enthusiastic inquirer that at the 2006 General Conference I proposed a Family conference to be held during the days following Christmas for the sole purpose of finding an avenue to address all members of the family.  This proposal was rejected by the General conference. 

Why did I propose such a conference for the family?  One, a few years ago I attended an African Methodist Episcopal Zion conference in Chicago that began a couple days  after Christmas and ended before the New Year. It was and continues to be an annual event sponsored by the Christian Education Department of that Zion.  The event was well attended by all ages.  Although it was not a family conference per se, I was impressed because I saw an opportunity to bring the family together.  A second reason for my proposal was that I have become more and more concerned about the status of the African American Family.   The Black family faces major challenges and some would argue it is in crisis.

Several years ago, using the work of Wallace Smith, I developed a workshop with the title of Smith’s book, “The Church in the Life of the Black Family.”  One of the conclusions was that the Church has always had an integral part in the life of the Black Family. On the occasions when I have presented this workshop it always amazes me that how so much of the information still resonates in our lives and makes direct connection to the West African tradition. 

However, most of our Christian education ministry is done with a European approach that is more nuclear family oriented than extended family.  As one who is charged with the giving voice to Christian Education in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church I see a great void in our connectional efforts and voice around the issues concerning Black Families.

I feel the time is ripe for such a Connectional Family Conference.  It is time to plan a conference that does include the entire family.  The dynamics certainly are different for such a conference and surely it will cost money.  But by the inquiries I am receiving families are searching for a way to involve the entire family.

I realize some will argue this needs to be done on a local, district, and regional level.  I don’t disagree with that, but I ask are we equipped to effectively plan and execute such conferences on these levels?  It requires people with skills and that equates to paid personnel and not all of our local churches, districts, and regional leaders work mainly for the church.   We have the vehicle through our General Officer of Christian Education.   I contend we need a focus as a connection that offers an opportunity for families to be enriched.  What are we saying as a denomination about the importance of family and our involvement in the life of the Black family? 

What message are we giving our mothers, fathers, grandfathers, and grandmothers when we say you can’t bring your children to Orlando?   It is our emphasis is on our youth, young adults and their children.  We need by all means focus on these, but we should not neglect the children, nor mothers and fathers, thus the black family. 

 Wallace Smith Judson Press