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Three men and a conference


Conference for Seminarians of Color creates lasting bonds of friendship

January 6, 2021

Jewel McRae

When Edward Byron Elam, Ryan Atkinson and Ralph Lowe arrived in Clinton, Tennessee, in 2019 to participate in Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural MinistriesConference for Seminarians of Color held at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Haley Farm, they had no idea that they would connect with individuals with whom they remain close one year later.

Last year 19 seminary students with diverse backgrounds arrived at the farm, formerly owned by “Roots” author Alex Haley, for four days of training and networking. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was not held in 2020.

“While we are disappointed that we are unable to gather in person for the conference this year, 2020 is still a special year for the Conference for Seminarians of Color,” said Jewel McRae, Associate for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries. “It marks the 40th anniversary. This conference has been very close to my heart for many, many years — I would say for at least 20 years. It gives seminarians an opportunity to come together to network, to hear from church leaders so they can experience the wonderful things that the Presbyterian Church has to offer them.”

McRae says that it always warms her heart that although people gather as strangers, “When they leave, they are leaving as siblings in Christ,” she said. “They are networking, they are forming and building relationships that will sustain them through seminary and also as they embark on ministry.”

Since the late 1970s, more than 1,000 seminarians of color have participated in the conference.

“One of the purposes of the conference is to connect seminarians of color with church leaders to help them engage in ministries and to deepen and enhance their skills and experience so they can serve effectively for Christ’s ministry,” said McRae. “It is extremely important for the church to hold this conference.”

McRae says the conference will be rescheduled once it can be done safely. “This conference develops great leaders. It has produced moderators, mid council leaders, General Assembly staff and leaders who serve in nontraditional ministries,” McRae noted.

“The continued relationship between these three young men is what we hope to have happen after each conference. This is one of the main goals of the conference — building and sustaining relationships during and after seminary,” she said.

A member of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Tennessee, and a student at Memphis Theological Seminary, Elam says he came to the conference hoping to make the type of connections that are hard to make in most corners of the PC(USA).

Elam, who currently serves as co-moderator of the General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR), said being a Black Presbyterian “is a very isolating experience. To be a Black Presbyterian seminarian is an even more isolating experience. Through attending the 2019 Seminarians of Color Conference, I was blessed to meet Ralph Lowe and Ryan Atkinson. As fellow Black men in seminary pursuing ministry in the PC(USA), we had an instant connection.”

“We vowed to maintain this connection even after the conference had ended. Since the October conference, we have participated in bimonthly calls. We spend about an hour twice a month on the phone discussing the joys and struggles of life. It’s liberating to have this relationship. We’re able to share things on that call that we couldn’t share with anyone else. As Black men in ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) there just are not many people that you can talk to that understand your experience fully. Ralph and Ryan provide that space and opportunity for me. The Seminarians of Color Conference made this friendship and brotherhood possible.”

McRae said that the conference “provides an opportunity for seminarians to join in community with other church leaders in a spiritual and nurturing environment.”

In addition to the networking and opportunity to join in the connectivity of the Presbyterian Church, McRae says the conference allows participants to learn about senior ordination exams, the realities of ministry as a person of color, self-care, serving in a new worshiping community, mentors and peer groups, building and sustaining relationships during and after seminary, and much more. “I’m so glad the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries offers this training,” McRae said.

Gail Strange, Director of Church and Mid Council Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the Epiphany of the Lord (Year B)

First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Second Reading Ephesians 3:1-12
Gospel Matthew 2:1-12

Today’s Focus:  Seminarians of Color Conference

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Andrew Kang Bartlett, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Dwayne Batcho, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray:

Our gracious God, we come together with our differing abilities as the diverse people you have created. We sometimes hesitate to share our own abilities with others. We think that others can do the work before us better than we can. Give us strength to share our talents and gifts in your name. Amen.

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