By Megan K. Mertz
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — More than 540 people from all across the country — and even as far away as Kenya, East Africa — converged here July 12-16 for the 2017 LCMS Lutherans in Black Ministry Family Convocation.
During the five-day gathering, attendees spent time together in worship, learning and fellowship under the theme “All for Jesus — Know Him. Confess Him. Serve Him.”
“We had Africans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Anglo-Americans there,” said the Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray Jr., director of LCMS Black Ministry. “This was an opportunity for Black Ministry to be more inclusive and to begin to celebrate who we are as Lutherans across cultures. It’s just an exciting time to be in ministry in the 21st century.”
The convocation also celebrated two historic anniversaries: the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation and the 140th anniversary of Black Ministry in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which started just 30 years after the Synod was formed. (For more on that history, click here.)
Honoring the ‘Immanuel Seven’
During the convocation, Gray unveiled a new award — the Servants of God and of His People Award — which was given to the seven living pastors who graduated from Immanuel Lutheran College and Seminary in Greensboro, N.C., which closed 56 years ago.
The Rev. Dr. William H. Griffin (who graduated in 1951), the Rev. Dr. Frazier N. Odom (1960), the Rev. Dr. Bryant E. Clancy Jr. (1961) and the Rev. Dr. James B. Marshall (1961) received the award in person. Not in attendance were the Rev. Dr. Simon Bodley (1957), the Rev. James Wiggins Sr. (1959) and the Rev. Arthur Bodley (1961).
“We honor you today because you weathered the storm for us,” Gray said to the four men who received the award in person. “The reason we’re here today is because you challenged the Church in the work of the Gospel.”
For 58 years, Immanuel — which started in Concord, N.C., in 1903 — provided high school, college and seminary education for black students who aspired to be leaders in the Church and world. The institution closed in 1961, several years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation in public schools.
“We would not be here had it not been for the closing of Immanuel. It was, in one respect, a mistake, and in another, one that was necessary,” Odom said.
“We thank God, however, that this institution of Immanuel gave us an opportunity to look inwardly and to see where we are and where we need to go. I thank God that He has given us two seminaries to carry on the work,” Odom continued, stressing the need to raise up and equip the next generation of pastors for the Church.
Later, Gray also recognized those who have been attending the convocation faithfully for many years, including a few who have attended since its inception in 1976.
Engaging the youth
Some of these future leaders also participated in the convocation. While their parents attended workshops and keynote addresses, some 120 children and teenagers had their own schedule full of speakers, servant events, devotions, field trips and games.
For Kyana Wood, a teen from Grace Lutheran Church, Concord, N.C., her favorite part was the field trip to the 16th Street Baptist Church. The church was the site of a bombing in 1963 that killed four young girls and injured other worshipers. Wood said the experience helped her “see how history played out in the city of Birmingham.”
Wood also was part of a group that baked cookies for local police officers and firefighters. Other groups did servant events at a women’s shelter, an animal shelter and a park, where they handed out popsicles and witnessed to people.
Although the children and youth were often involved with their own activities, the older youth attended the panel discussion July 13 with the Rev. Micah Glenn, LCMS national missionary to his hometown of Ferguson, Mo.; the Rev. Delwyn Campbell, LCMS national missionary to his hometown of Gary, Ind.; the Rev. Dr. William H. Griffin, a retired pastor; and the Rev. Warren Lattimore, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Orleans.
During this discussion, these pastors shared a little bit about their struggles growing up, as well as how God led them to serve Him in their various locations.
Afterward, one young man asked for “grown men and grown women advice” on how to avoid temptation as a young person in the world today.
“Those temptations, we all had them. Don’t be afraid to turn to your pastor,” Glenn counseled the teenagers.
Griffin also advised them to find friends who share their Christian values. “Find out where they are and stay with them,” he said.
During the event, the youth also elected members to a new Black Family Ministry Youth Advisory Committee, which will help plan the youth track at the next convocation.
The Rev. Gregory Manning, pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, New Orleans, and one of the leaders of the program for children and youth, said he also hopes the committee can “give some direction to how youth who are of other cultures can be better represented at the national Youth Gathering.”
Members of the new committee are:
- Will Barns of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Orlando, Fla.;
- Jalain Gentry of First Lutheran Church, Hot Springs, Ark.;
- Letez Glover, also of First Lutheran, Hot Springs;
- Blake Melton of St. Paul Lutheran, Dallas; and
- Ivan Melton, also of St. Paul, Dallas.
Malkia Brown of Trinity Lutheran Church, Mobile, Ala., will serve as the alternate.
Equipping through speakers, workshops
Many attendees said a highlight of the convocation was the varied lineup of speakers and workshops. Nearly 20 different workshops were offered on topics like raising up future leaders, campus ministry, outreach to Muslims, community development and responding after a disaster.
During the July 13 opening devotion, the Rev. Christopher Bodley, missionary at-large in the LCMS Michigan District, led the convocation in a Bible study on Phil. 3:7-11.
Paul wrote these words, Bodley said, because he had “an experience” when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Through that encounter, God reframed Paul’s heart, just as God continues to reframe His followers’ hearts, vision, lives and attitudes today.
“He takes us on this journey from the known to the unknown to help us understand,” Bodley continued. “When we’re in the God Zone, there’s a commitment to growing, a commitment to learning, a commitment to being a disciple, and a commitment to having our lives reframed.”
This reframing isn’t always comfortable, Bodley said, adding, “Give us, O God, a desire to become more like You, so that the world will see You in us.”
The convocation also included three keynote addresses, starting with the Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor, pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, N.Y., and first vice-president of the LCMS Atlantic District, who spoke on “All for Jesus — Knowing Him.”
Knowing Jesus only happens if we are known by Him first, Taylor said.
“If it is all for Jesus and we are called to know Him, let us be clear about who He is,” he continued. “Jesus is God, of the same substance as His Father. … Jesus is the child of unwed parents not welcomed or celebrated by many … a radical reformer … our Savior … our Redeemer.
“Stop trying to be something you are not. You are not other denominations. You are not other people,” he said. “You are Lutherans. … Confess and rejoice that Christ knows you. You are the Body of Christ,” so go back and “start on some new initiatives for His Kingdom.”
The Rev. Dr. Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., the Werner R.H. and Elizabeth R. Krause Professor of Hispanic Ministries at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, also gave a keynote address on sanctification. Sanchez said the Holy Spirit is like a sculptor who constantly “forms us and shapes us to be Christ-like.”
The Rev. Dr. Gregory P. Seltz, outgoing speaker of “The Lutheran Hour” and new executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, was the final keynote speaker. In his address, he encouraged listeners to take the “incredible proclamation” of the Gospel, which Martin Luther rediscovered in the Reformation, into the lives of hurting people.
“You can be a neighbor to the neighbors He sends you. It’s not that hard. You get to know them as they are, and you see what God can do through you,” Seltz said. “Every day, you get up and go, ‘How can I be a better husband today? How can I be a better father today? How can I be a better neighbor today? Lord, what have You prepared for me?’”
On the last evening, attendees gathered for a formal dinner and time of fellowship. The Rev. Dr. John A. Nunes, president of Concordia College—New York, Bronxville, N.Y., served as the banquet speaker, and his wife, Monique, provided special music.
Vernie Shipp, a member at Grace Lutheran Church, Concord, N.C., called the sessions “inspiring, uplifting … and well-planned.” She said she enjoyed hearing “the different pastors and the way they presented themselves,” as well as getting “encouraged and [learning] how we can work in the communities and invite people to come in to our church.”
Coming together in worship
The convocation featured opening and closing worship, as well as daily devotions for all ages. During the event, a mass choir composed of members from congregations in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and other states provided special music.
In his sermon on the opening evening, the Rev. Dr. Ulmer Marshall Jr., pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Mobile, Ala., and Bethel Lutheran Church, Point Clear, Ala., and first vice-president of the LCMS Southern District, examined the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet in John 12:1-8.
“She did not hold back. She poured all of it on the feet of Jesus. All for Jesus,” Marshall said, connecting the story to the convocation theme.
“Mary expressed her love in an extravagant gift. While many people may claim to love Jesus, they aren’t willing to give Him their very best,” he continued, encouraging those in attendance to take “every opportunity” to worship Jesus and sing His praises. “Don’t wait until just on Sunday.”
This idea carried through Thursday, Friday, Saturday and into Sunday, as the speakers, workshops and fellowship times all brought attendees together to praise God, learn about new resources and celebrate together as His Church.
In the closing service, the Rev. Dr. McNair Ramsey, second vice-president of the LCMS Southern District, likened the convocation experience to being “Peter, James and John when they were on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus.”
“We don’t want to leave this place, but the work is down in the valley,” Ramsey said. “So, we must go and proclaim the goodness of the Lord.”
For Shirley Rogers, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Birmingham, Ala., the host church for the event, the highlight of the convocation — her first — was “the Word of the Lord and the gathering of His people.”
“And getting to know different people from different places,” she added. “We all came together as one.”
Megan K. Mertz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer and managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World with LCMS Communications.
Posted July 25, 2017