February 2018 in Norfolk, Virginia
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;” 2 Corinthians 10:4 KJV
“There is power in the name of Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus. To break every chain. To break every chain. To break every chain.”
Since the inception of the International Ministers and Lay Association, formerly known as the Ministers and Laymen’s Association, which formed in 1938, powerful attempts have been made to strengthen the relationship between Laity and ministers of our great church. The attempt to do so has taken place while providing a medium for allowing persons to openly express opinions, recommendations, and dialogical concerns, without inhibition, or censure. This was the God given rights granted by God’s word, under the umbrellas of Christianity, Intelligencia, and as having been the sons and daughters of Varick; more specifically these are our rights as members of the Freedom Church. Bishop William Jacob Walls highlights this in Reality of Black Church, stating, “The Ministers and Lay Association “is one of the cooperative movements within the church which seeks to help in the execution of plans and purposes of the denomination, and to apply its forcefulness to the trends and needs of the times.”[i] Our church, as well as the Christian community as a whole continues to be brought face to face with enormous pervasive trends that bring us front and center with present day challenges. This is nothing short of what the religious community faced during our Savior’s time; this is nothing short of why we exist as a denomination; this is nothing short of why Charles Wesley continues to challenge the Christian faith today as he did in 1762:
“To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
Oh, may it all my pow’rs engage
To do my Master’s will!”[ii]
This is nothing short of what we have learned from the days of the Harlem Renaissance; the Civil Rights Movement; the Black Power Movement; the Post Civil Rights Movement; the Black Lives Matter Movement; through years of protests, and definitely, as it relates to various pew reports, as pew reports tend to point out our inability to often times recognize/respond to an aging church. We are, in no-wise faced with less than our ancestors, but brought to an impasse to no longer ignore, as Bishop Walls states, “trends” that prompt us to address the “needs of the times.” God bringing us face to face with this is truly not by happenstance.
Shortly after the nomination of The Executive Board of the International Ministers and Lay Association, we met in Raleigh, N.C. to carefully strategize and map out plans that will help us to recognize, address and embrace the trends that Bishop Walls spoke of years ago, many of which continue to challenge us today, but may be somewhat different in scope. I am elated to work with such a distinguished group, as each team member brings to bare a plethora of experiences from both lay and clergy backgrounds. Many of the team’s experiences and talents have already begun to assist the association in helping to build upon the foundation passed down, as well as carry the association to the next level. Our goal is to assist the association with leaving an even stronger foundation to perpetuity for those who will follow us, but not as a team of renegades or in silos. As a team, however, we appreciate and welcome the plethora of gifts, talents, opinions and abilities that exist throughout our association as we know it is impossible to reach such heights in a vacuum. We value and need each of you collectively and collaboratively; we value and need Millennials, Young Adults, seasoned adults, from both lay and clergy ranks from across our Zion. We value and need the unity that makes us one family in Christ with a distinct sound that centers around “One Band, One Sound.”
Dr. William Willimon addresses the holistic need for such collaboration in his powerful book, Fear of the Other: No Fear In Love, as he looks at the sustained existence of many who may have worshiped, worked and even collaborated under the same umbrella, but failed to fully understand “the other” as a result of fear. I do not refer to fear in the sense that one is terrified of the other, but rather has not respected “the other” to the degree that hearing what the other has to say might make us uncomfortable, to some degree. Willimon states, “A curious dynamic of separation and welcome is at the heart of the church.” Furthermore “The Spirit does not erase our bodily inscribed differences but enables us to be one by loosening the superficial, humanly constructed differences imposed upon us by our social roles and our culture.”[iii] Brenda Allen points out in her book Difference Matters, “Changing Demographics, for the changes people experience daily requires allowing the differences of opinions to be respected.”[iv] Hospitality of the other has less to do with being cordial and respectful to persons we seek to attract only, but is just as important to those who are already an integral part of our family. This is not only because others among us have relevant things to say about the future of our Zion, but often because many times others who have relevant things to say have not been allowed to express them without inhibition, unless the status quo has deemed it appropriate. I truly believe as an association the time has come to continue, as Phyllis Tickle contends, “to swap stories”[v]intergenerationally so that each of us is clear about what has brought us to the ways in which we think and act, without the fear of being disavowed. “Hospitality”, according to Henry Nouwen, “is not intended to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”[vi]
I am clear, as I pray all of us are, that our battle is not from within, but from the forces of darkness from without. Our battle against providing and demonstrating Christian service in expressing the “full meaning of sharing in the responsibility of religious and social uplift”[vii] should never be interpreted as an internal deterrent, but from the enemy himself. Hence, even amidst our right to agree to disagree for the advancement of kingdom building will not be taken for granted, for we are family. The Executive Board will do our very best to work in harmony, yet never lose sight of why we exist as an association. Bishop Alfred Dunston once stated, “We are called to unity and not uniformity.” Furthermore, our being called to serve in totality should be clearly understood with complete humility that “This is [still] the LORD'S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”[viii]
What’s the point?
Just as the Christian church continues to be called out, I believe so does our association. We are being asked if the status quo will continue to chart the course of the association’s future through stagnation, or will we embrace again the “mystery and wonder of God through the Holy Spirit” that inspired The Reverend Hilliard R. Jackson and a committed contingent of dedicated Zionites to recognize the changing trends, while simultaneously daring to speak out on behalf of the oppressed. They understood then, as we must understand now that oppression is not limited to class, race, gender and creed, but can also exist among the people of God who institutionalize others based on their own limited spiritual sight. The need to sense the divine presence of God; “ the mystery and wonder of God through the Holy Spirit”, if you will, once again brings us full circle with God’s desire to imbue us with the wherewhithal to step outside of our own sphere, and into a sphere that can only be understood through the eyes of the divine.
“God is not dead, He’s still alive. And He’s still working miracle in our lives.” It is not by happenstance that the International Ministers and Lay Association is being called upon, not just for this moment, but for just as many and even more years in the future as it was in times past to, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us, “recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church”, seek to preserve its “authenticity”, while working without tire to never be seen as an “irrelevant social club with no meaning for this century.”[ix] It matters that we be and remain viable, vibrant, and vital. It matters that we be and remain bold, brave and battle ready with the help of God to break every chain that binds God’s people in Zion. It matters that our association be prepared, prayerful and poised to speak out without fear against injustices throughout the world, for our morality and Christian principles hinge on the very existence of so many things that plague our communities. That which plagues our churches plagues God’s people, regardless of denominational dogma. It matters that our association be and remain faithful, fearless and forthright in taking up the weapons of justice, social justice, liberty and human rights of God’s people, which is exactly the evidence of “strongholds that are being pulled down” spiritually, daily. It matters that our association be and remain committed to being the voice for others who may not be able to speak truth to power for numerous reasons.
Finally, I think it is fitting to note that although many times the Israelite's’ relationship with God was challenged on many fronts, by many situations, at many times, for many different reasons, a remnant continued to trust God for healing emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically. We are the sons and daughters of that remnant God has chosen, like Joshua and Caleb who see things differently, even in the face of having to stand against the majority; even in the face of having to deal with the splintered-ness of their situation that forced them to hold on to a ray of hope; a ray of hope that often times is a very thin thread of hope in God Almighty. We are the sons and daughters of the remnant God has chosen to remain alive during the Twenty-First Century to work towards breaking chains in the lives of God’s people throughout our Zion. We are the sons and daughters of the remnant God is counting on to stand for righteousness’ sake. This is exactly, I believe, what Tasha Cobbs conveys in a most powerful way:
There is power in the name of Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus. To break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.
There’s an army rising up. There’s an army rising up. There’s an army rising up, to break every chain. Break every chain. Break every chain.
I hear the chains falling. I hear the chains falling. I hear the chains falling. To break every chain, break every chain”
I would like to propose, receive the association’s prayerful consideration, embrace and faithfully support the following throughout this quadrennium:
- Support of and provide positive feedback of the association’s new website. Our goal is to make it even better than it presently is.
- Increase in memberships across generational lines by at least 30 percent this quadrenium.
- Establish effective mentoring groups to teach the significance of our denomination’s history, as well as help to develop seamless turnover that promotes the perpetuity of our association.
- Commitment to sustained memberships of those who are and have been members over the years
- The support of and purchase of the new association Lapel Pin. The goal is to circulate over 1000 pins throughout the denomination.
- That we embrace new and fresh ideas, while tweaking, sustaining and modifying those that keep us scripturally and doctrinally viable/relevant.
- Support our Regional Vice Presidents with helping to strengthen our areas with a cohesive intentional plan to bridge gaps across the denomination.
- To ensure the historical archives of our association continue to be chronicled accordingly and kept in a secure location to preserve the historicity for future association members.
- To keep the association members apprised of the issues impacting our Zion that fall under our purview.
- That we be transparent, accountable and trustworthy in every respect throughout our association.
- Continue working collaboratively within the parameters of our by-laws with various groups throughout our Zion to help strengthen the relationship among ministers and laity across the denomination
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;” 2 Corinthians 10:4 KJV
Rev. Dr. Anthony Witherspoon
[i] The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the Black church, pg. 452, by William Jacob Walls, 1974. A.M.E. Zion Publishing House
[ii] A Charge to Keep I Have” Charles Wesley, pub.1762
[iii] Fear Of The Other: No Fear In Love, Loving the other in church; Gathered Together, pg. 72 by William Willimon
[iv].Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity, pg. 52 by Brenda Allen
[v] The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, pg. 133 by Phyllis Tickle
[vi] Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, Pgs. 71-72 by Henry J. M. Nouwen Creating Space for Strangers
[vii] President’s Address delivered by Dr. Frank Jones during the Ministers and Lay Association which convened in New Bern, NC, February 20, 2008.
[viii] Psalm 118:23
[ix] Why We Can’t ait pg 92, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.