Black Methodist For Church Renewal (BMCR) celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary during its annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio – March 8-11, 2017. The annual meeting not only was an historic event, it was a festive and inspirational gathering. It was a privilege and a joy to participate in this gathering of United Methodists.
The first meeting of Black Methodists was held in Detroit, Michigan in the fall of 1967. Bishop Woodie White noted that about 30 people gathered from the several corners of the nation. Their purpose was “to assess the future of Black Methodists in a newly merged denomination. There was enthusiasm, concern, and commitment as we gathered.” This meeting was a bold move that helped African Americans to find a meaningful path in the new United Methodist Church.
The National Conference of Negro Methodists was convened in March of 1968. The meeting was adjourned as a new organization, Black Methodists for Church Renewal. The very title demonstrated a solid commitment to the denomination and an unwillingness to accept the status quo. Dr. William McClain in his sermon during the opening worship service (March 9, 2017) proclaimed that the black “presence was both protest and participation.”
The decade of the 1960’s was a turbulent era – assassinations of national leaders, urban riots and the Viet Nam War. The Methodist Church was in the process of desegregating by eliminating the Central Jurisdiction which was the political home of all the black annual conferences. The nation and the church would never be the same again as time marched forward.
Over the years since its inception, BMCR has maintained a vital presence in the UMC. Its voice has been both pastoral and prophetic, energetic and emphatic, visionary and vital. BMCR has been a voice for racial justice, inclusivity and renewal of body, mind and spirit. BMCR is a caucus group with a vision: “A renewed transformed unified body of Christ on mission in the world.” What is the mission?
“The mission of Black Methodist for Church Renewal is to raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders who will be advocates for the unique needs of Black people in the United Methodist Church.”
The 2017 annual meeting convened under the theme, “Celebrating A Legacy of Faith, Hope, and Renewal – More Rivers to Cross, More Milestones to Reach. Various speakers rightly reminded BMCR that there are still more rivers to cross. During the days of American slavery, the slaves carried the image of the rivers which marked the activity of crossing to “freedom.” The Ohio River was known as River Jordan among the slaves. The desire, then, was to escape from bondage in Kentucky (a slave state) and cross the Ohio River (a free state) to freedom. The setting, Cincinnati, is the city where BMCR was birthed, and this city is freighted with history. The Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located in Cincinnati; its executive director, Dr. Clarence Newsome, was the banquet speaker. He also spoke of rivers, and barriers in life.
The meaning of rivers in black life and culture is captured in Langston Hughes’ poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers:”
“I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
There are rivers that remain. They must be crossed. BMCR is working within the United Methodist Church to enable the crossing of rivers through presence and participation.
Think about it!