Caucus president: ‘The power of unity is something exceptional that we can all cherish together’
August 8, 2023
Enthusiastic energy filled the Compass Ballroom at the Marriott Hotel in North Charleston, South Carolina, recently as the 2023 conference of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus (NBPC) commenced. While the national conference takes place biennially, this year’s event, called “A Gathering of Black Presbyterians,” was the first to be held in person since the pandemic began. A virtual gathering was held in 2021.
The theme for this year’s conference was “The Black Family in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Navigating Identity, Equity, and Economics.” The scriptural focus was Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
The events kicked off with a rousing morning devotion featuring a reflection from the Rev. Lakesha Bradshaw-Easter and music from conference musician Dr. Tony McNeill. Bradshaw-Easter told conference attendees, “Presbyterianism is good, but it is Christ that connects us.” She encouraged participants to celebrate that they have “come this far by faith,” to remember those elders who taught them their faith, and to think of those to whom they will hand down faith.
This time of praise and worship was followed by an opening session of the NBPC to conduct business, including a welcome to Charleston from Elder Mary Porter of St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, South Carolina, as well as from Charleston Atlantic Presbytery moderator Alan Rousseau and bridge stated clerk Catherine Byrd. Their comments celebrated Charleston’s large number of historic Black congregations, while also acknowledging the region’s troubled history regarding treatment of Black Americans as well as Native Americans.
“We cannot brag about our historic Black churches without acknowledging … the roots of these churches lie with enslaved people from Africa who were allowed to worship only at sufferance — consigned to cramped balconies of the white landowners’ churches or even expected to stand outside and listen at the door and peek in through the windows,” Byrd said. She went on to point out, “Black Presbyterians had to establish their own churches, many of which remain vibrant today.”
The opening session also included greetings from NBPC president the Rev. Dr. Charles C. Heyward, who also hails from Charleston Atlantic Presbytery. Heyward emphasized unity among Black Presbyterians and urged attendees to spend their time at the conference fully engaging in the content offered, getting tired and connecting with new people each day. Other reports were offered from Racial Equity and Women’s Intercultural Ministries, the NBPC Finance Committee, the national membership chair, regional chapter development, Black Presbyterian Women, the nominating committee, and a representative for Young Adult and Youth. Valerie Young, the synod executive and stated clerk of the Synod of South Atlantic, also brought greetings.
The Caucus declared 2023 “The Year of Reimagining and Church Growth” and the plenary sessions throughout this year’s gathering resonated with that commitment. Anisha Hackney, the human resources manager for the Administrative Services Group, offered the first plenary session, which focused on “reimagining.”
“What got us here won’t get us there,” Hackney said, urging churches to become more fully inclusive of LGBTQ people and others. One participant was met with hearty agreement when he pointed out that those with mental health struggles also need to be better included.
The Pioneer Luncheon featured the Rev. Eustacia Moffett Marshall as speaker. The message of Marshall, the senior pastor at New River Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, explored the need for holy disruption and the way that pioneers of Black Presbyterian faith like Maria Fearing and Lucy Craft Laney were disruptors.
The luncheon also recognized this year’s winners of the Lucy Craft Laney and Maria Fearing awards and honored Black Presbyterian mission co-workers, both past and present. Sheila Louder of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta was previously named as the 2023 winner of the Lucy Craft Laney Award, while Brooke Howard of the Presbytery of New Harmony was named as first-place winner of the Youth Lucy Craft Laney essay contest.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Cheryl Barnes, recently named Africa area coordinator for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, was awarded the Maria Fearing Award. Other mission co-workers recognized for their work included the Rev. Paula Cooper, the Revs. Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, José Lamont Jones, the Rev. Ingrid Reneau Walls, Leisa Wagstaff and the Rev. Phyllis Byrd.
Layton Williams Berkes, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: National Black Presbyterian Caucus
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
Gracious God, we plant and water the seeds, but you alone give the growth to our mission and outreach projects. Keep us faithful in our work in your vineyard that our labors may bear fruit and we may help others grow in the knowledge of your love and grace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.