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Celebrating 40 years of building leaders within the PC(USA)

Seminarians of Color conference prepares leaders to serve boldly and successfully

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 reminds us of this: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (NRSV)

For the past 40 years, the Presbyterian Conference for Seminarians of Color has been living into this Scripture to make sure that seminarians of color are thoroughly prepared to utilize the gifts God has activated in all of them.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the conference. The brainchild of the Rev. James Foster Reese, the conference came into being following a survey conducted by Reese in the mid-1970s that revealed Presbyterians of color represented a small percentage of seminarians attending theological institutions throughout the country. In some cases, there were very few seminarians of color per campus. Often they were not members of the same racial ethnic group.

Most recently a new component has been added to the conference to include a new immigrant focus.

Since its inception, more than 1,000 seminarians of color have attended the conference, including many of today’s current church leaders of color, such as J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency; Jerry Cannon, pastor, C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency; SanDawna Ashley, executive presbyter, Minnesota Valley Presbytery; Wayne Steele, pastor of Peace Presbyterian Church in Louisville; and many others also serving as mid councils leaders, PC(USA) staff,  pastors, and faculty in theological institutions.

“Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries seeks to be proactive in providing leadership development opportunities and to offer seminarians of color, new immigrants and women with an overview of many skills and talents needed to succeed in leadership positions in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” said Jewel McRae, associate for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries.

McRae, who manages the conference, says the conference provides an opportunity for participants to join in community with other church leaders in a spiritual and nurturing environment. She says they also learn how to take senior ordination exams, hear about new worshiping communities, discuss issues facing seminarians of color, and are encouraged to build and sustain relationships as part of their support system. Additionally, participants hear about the rewards and challenges of being a Presbyterian leader, mentor and peer.

“The planning team has always taken great pleasure in welcoming back conference alumni as keynote speakers and workshop leaders,“ she said. “It’s amazing to see how these onetime conference participants have grown into such great leaders.”

To commemorate the 40th anniversary, two videos have been produced to share the impact of the conference even today. The videos are available here and here. In each video, Presbyterians might see some familiar faces and friends, including those who attended a conference.

“It is our hope that the church will help RE&WIM keep this conference alive in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as we prepare leaders to serve boldly and successfully in ministry,” said McRae.

You may give online here, or you may send your check or money order to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA, 15264-3700. Please write on the memo line that this is a gift for the Leadership Development for Leaders of Color.

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