By Kathy Barnes-Hemsworth
A newly formed African American Ministry Team will promote racial inclusiveness in Holston Conference while addressing the needs of black churches.
The team was formed in November after Bishop James Swanson and the Discipleship Team recognized a need to develop African-American ministry in Holston, organizers said. Serving as team co-chairs are the Rev. Leah Burns of Haven’s Chapel UMC, Oak Ridge District, and the Rev. William Pace of Lincoln Park/Martin Chapel UMC, Knoxville District.
Burns said the team is needed “because as United Methodists, we are called to be faithful to the example of the ministry of Jesus Christ to all persons, to be inclusive and to be supportive of each other.”
Racial inclusiveness is a commitment of the United Methodist Church, consistent with the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” campaign, Burns said.
A mission statement and goals have not yet been established. However, team members discussed the need to grow African-American congregations, involve and support youth, offer Christ to the community, engage laity, and foster hope, she said.
Of 906 total churches in Holston, 45 to 55 are African American, Pace said. Two of those congregations are in his own district, he said, along with 30 other Methodist churches of other denominations (African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal).
"The attitude that African Americans are experiencing ‘Methodism’ under other administrations is really unacceptable and not true to the allegiance and hope of all African American members and others in the Holston Conference," Pace said.
The team hopes to make others aware of African American congregations and possible inequity, Burns said. They hope to foster connections between the black churches as well as between congregations of different races.
"Diversity and inclusiveness were important to the founder of American Methodism, John Wesley, and the [team] would like to give a voice to African Americans in this area -- to identify needs, to identify resources, and to meet those needs," she said.
As the African American Ministry Team prepares to form a mission statement and set goals, others are invited to contribute, Burns said. Her hope is the team can follow a process similar to one used to develop the conference vision statement in 2006.
“[We want] to involve and get input, and then to put in place some actions that will enable us to accomplish our mission,” she said.
“I just keep thinking about Nehemiah, who led a fractured and frustrated group of people to extraordinary effort to rebuild a wall -- this despite distractions and detractors who relentlessly to stop the work,” Burns said. “I love his reply to those who would stop the rebuilding: ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.’ I would think the same applies to our efforts. We are doing such great work and we cannot get discouraged or stop the progress.”
The AAMT will meet again Jan. 23 at Kodak UMC. Holston members may offer ideas or volunteer their services by contacting Burns at (865) 387-1627 or email@example.com, or Pace at (865) 525-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.