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‘Our work continues no matter what’

National Black Presbyterian Caucus holds virtual 46th Biennial Convention

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Ann Caldwell and The Magnolia Singers visit with the outgoing president of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, the Rev. Dr Thomas Priest, at right, during the caucus’ 46th Biennial Convention. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — In opening remarks of the virtual 46th Biennial Convention of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, the organization’s president, the Rev. Dr. Thomas H. Priest, Jr. said, “In the preface of the Revised Edition of ‘Black and Presbyterian: The Heritage and the Hope’ by Gayraud S. Wilmore, former president of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, Jesse C. Swanigan, wrote, ‘Black Presbyterians, North and South, are still asking the questions about cultural differences, identity, and ethnic-specific mission that they asked before the reunion — asking these questions with even more urgency in a church and nation where racism seems unabated. Is it possible or more difficult than in 1980 to experience what Black Presbyterians United (BPU) President Claude C. Kilgore called ‘unity within diversity?’”

“Those comments were made in 1998,” said Priest. “Unfortunately, those questions are still relevant today and requires a response. The NBPC 2021 Biennial theme, ‘The Black Family, Congregation and Community in the Presbyterian Church USA: Navigating Identity, Equity and Economics’ is an opportunity to discuss and discern how the unity of the Black family, congregation and community lives out its calling in the predominately white Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

According to Priest, this year’s convention was historic. “It was historic because we are in unprecedented times,” he said. “We could have easily canceled because of the pandemic, but we are a living organization. And, as a living organization, we must navigate through difficult times. Our work continues no matter what.”

Priest acknowledges that successful engagement of the NBPC theme requires the participation of all generations and says it indeed takes the whole village to raise a child and become the people God created us to be.

“We have been given a great opportunity in 2021 to come together in unity to participate in God’s mission in the world as Black Presbyterians. Black Presbyterians recognize that racism has not been abated in our church and society,” he said. “We know this because of the under-representation of Black Presbyterians across all governing bodies and the declining membership of our congregations The communities where our churches are located continue to be marginalized by the effects of racism. Black and brown people continue to absorb the brutal blows of injustice and exclusion.”

Priest’s term as president ended at this convention and the organization selected the Rev. Dr. Charles C. Heyward, Sr. who is honorably retired and currently serving as the supply pastor at The Presbyterian Church on Edisto Island in South Carolina as the new NBPC president.

When asked about his vision for NBPC, Heyward said, “I see the sessions becoming the basic unit of the caucus. The sessional leadership. The active session members of our local [Black Presbyterian] congregation needs to be the basic membership unit of the caucus.”

“Our primary constituents are our African American congregations and others who support the mission of the Caucus,” Heyward said. “So, because the session is the council of decision-making in the life of Black Presbyterianism, and therefore it is the active pastors and active elders that, in my opinion, need to be the principal leaders of all of the chapters. So that actions of the chapter represent the collective sharing of ministry among the active congregations and all the active sessions. You can get a whole lot done if you did that. Nothing happens without sessions.”

Heyward noted that the caucus needs to address what is biblical first. “We need to address the spirit of worship, really to share in the call to worship God,” he said. “What does that mean? Together, not individually as a separate congregation. We do that and we organize our worship separately, but how can we share in what worship is? Training our leadership, using the best of the technology. Some congregations have the resources, others don’t.”

“Next to our worship is we need to fellowship together,” Heyward said. “We need to know each other. We’re challenged with the same need for effective ministry, whether it be ecclesiastical, corporate, social or political. And once we fellowship together, then we also need to disciple together, which is training.”

Heyward says it is important that Black Presbyterians and the NBPC come to the table and celebrate together “what we know, how we learn and power.” He noted that the next generation should draw on the spirit of those who’ve been working for many years.

“We need to learn how to effectively pass the torch to the next generation,” said Heyward. “That’s done in training and discipling. And then when we come together as a ministry, we need to recognize the contribution of our members, not only in the presence of our individual congregations, but we need to recognize the ministry, the effectiveness and support the commitment of many of our leaders and members in the presence of others. It’s biblical that we do the mission for Christ. Micah 6:8 ask what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

Heyward commented that there are two primary things he would like to accomplish during his tenure as the president of NBPC.

“When we [NBPC] convened a few weeks ago my understanding is that he had 390 paid members of the potential 49,000 constituency. So that’s less than one percent of Black Presbyterians belonging to the organization. My focus would be to lay the foundation so that we at least have 10% of the African American members to become active participants in the life of the caucus. The second thing would be to engage a number of the younger pastors who have the skills, gifts and abilities. They have great corporate management, church management, fiscal management technology. They can do this,” he said.

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