ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Nearly 500 members of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal – the official black caucus in the United Methodist Church – discussed ways to reverse the current trend of youth leaving the pews, during their March 24-27 meeting at Atlantic City, N.J.
The Rev. William B. McClain, professor of preaching at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, echoed the concerns of all those gathered.
"I'm scared," he said. "I go around to our churches and find out we have no young people.... We need new and younger leadership not because they are young but because they may have new vision."
According to the speakers, African American youth leave the church because they say elders do not give them a chance in leadership and that their cultures and perspectives are not respected. The youth also call for a greater use of visual media and computer technology to enhance worship and praise.
The caucus, therefore, resolved that it would implement a youth and young adult resource center that would help youth teach and empower one another as well as receive mentoring from adult leaders.
In other areas, the caucus discussed the ongoing efforts to empower black Methodists for effective witness and service; involve them in the struggle for economic justice; and expose racism at all levels of the church, its agencies and related institutions.
Remembering the original African Americans of the caucus in 1968, the attendees renewed their dedication to the cause.
"We came as Negroes and four days later left black," McClain recalled of the 1968 meeting. "More than half of the original board of directors are gone.... They died without receiving the promise," he said.
The Rev. Vincent Harris, caucus chairperson and pastor of Riverside United Methodist Church in Houston, reminded the gatherers that the black family, the black faith and the black community must be restored, renewed and regenerated by "whatever means necessary."
"We are Methodist theologically and understand the Wesleyan evangelist call to invite all to receive salvation, to convince all of Christ love, and to share in fellowship and outreach," he said. "We are the preaching Methodists, we are the singing Methodists, we are the praying Methodists, we are the shouting Methodists. ... We are the renewal, the revival, the rekindling that fueled the journey of hope yesterday, that fuels the hope today and fuels the hope for tomorrow."
Harris ended his keynote address with a call to support the caucus’ programs and projects and to develop vital ministries for black churches.