Black Methodists for Church Renewal,Inc.
Monday, October 20, 2014

Who We Are

BMCR represents and is dedicated to more than 2,400 Black United Methodist congregations and approximately 500,000 African American members across the United States. 
The caucus is vital because of its: 
  • keen concern for the future of African Americans in the denomination; 
  • ability to advocate for the interests and inclusivity of Blacks in the general church structures, 
  • exceptional nerve to serve as the spiritual agitating conscious of the church, 
  • determination to raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders who will be advocates for the unique needs of Black people in The United Methodist Church. 

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From the BMCR Chairman, Cedrick Bridgeforth 

 Thoughts On Bishop Martin McLee

(Part 1 of 3)

While in a taxi from John F. Kennedy Airport to Riverside Church, I found a National Geographic magazine. Inside the magazine there was a travel trivia page with pictures and questions that were meant to challenge the level of knowledge the reader had concerning various countries, delicacies and propensities around the world.  This seemed fitting since the person being memorialized that day was an avid traveler and connoisseur of fine foods. There were nine questions and I only answered one of them correctly, number 7. The answer:  the Panama Canal.  Further exploration of the true impact of the Panama Canal was poignant as the taxi neared 490 Riverside Drive, where a celebration of Bishop Martin “Duke” McLee’s life and ministry was set to take place. 

As the episcopal leaders, clergy, and laity from around the world gathered in person and online, there was an energy that enveloped the hallowed halls of the famed Riverside Church.  Everyone in attendance had been summoned there by a man’s spirit and work that seemingly defied reason and shifted conventional thought about what was proper and appropriate for pastoral and episcopal leaders. He rapped, he sang, he waxed poetic at every opportunity and always in the name and spirit of Christ Jesus.  It was his exuberant challenges and proclamations that issued invitations to each of us upon first meeting him or hearing him proclaim the good news. 

I received my invitation in August 2008, when we met during the New District Superintendent Training at Lake Junaluska.  It only took us about six minutes before we were laughing and hugging and forever bonded as brothers in the struggle – knowing victory would come.  Through the years we would text each other and speak by phone about happenings in our respective districts. We mentored each other through those early years as we strategized and lamented the decisions and possibilities facing some of our communities, congregations and clergy.  We believed in a brighter and better future for all. We shared a hope and vision of a fully inclusive and whole church. We offered support to one another because it made sense to work collaboratively and prayerfully as we served in opposite corners of the country, he in Boston and I in Los Angeles. 

When 2012 came upon us and my peer-mentor informed me that he was considering allowing himself to be offered as a candidate for the episcopacy, I questioned that notion.  I, like others, wondered what this rapping, radical would do as a Bishop and would he be taken seriously.  Now, those who knew him knew he was playful and that was in no way an indication of the level of seriousness with which he approached his life and ministry.  As I sat in the Western Jurisdiction meetings, I was watching the ballot results of the Northeast very closely.  Even during the election proceedings, we texted encouragement and humorous exchanges to lighten those tense moments until finally he sent me a message: “It is in God’s hands!”  He was right and a few hours later the ballot showed “Martin McLee – Elected.”

He was elected based on his merit of authentic and consistent expression and progression.  He cared about people and he ultimately demonstrated what it is to love Jesus more than he loved the church or the institutions that claim his name and authority, with or without license.  It did not take him long to get in the fray and woes that the church will present to anyone in leadership.  In the midst of it he felt the weight of the decisions but he did not make any of it about himself. He prayed. He fasted. He retreated. He waited. He discerned. Then, he spoke the truth as it had come to him and in ways that he felt served his commitment to Jesus first and the church second.  He took heat for some of his decisions, just as often or as much as he received ridicule for not conforming to some model of leadership that others thought more fitting or in line with bishops of the past.  We loved him for that perspective and for the permission it gave and gives others to step out of the boxes created to restrain creativity and ultimately choke out justice-seekers who want to see the world as a whole creation of Almighty God.

As I walked into The Riverside Church I felt the weight of the moment. As the grand processional began it increased, but came down to a tolerable level as each speaker graced the chancel and shared various perspectives on their relationship with Bishop, Martin, Martin Duke, McBishop, etc.  It was clear he was the same and had the same impact on those gathered as he had on me and upon my ministry.  His witness was an invitation to all of us to join the struggle, but to do so in response to Jesus’ ultimate call to love one another and to work for justice and inclusion of all.  The service concluded with the song: Draw the Circle Wide:

Draw the circle, draw the circle wide…No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side. Draw the circle wide…draw it wider still, let this be our song, no one stand alone, standing side by side. Draw the circle wide.

Eight of us who loved him and cared for him deeply and whose lives and ministries were profoundly changed by Bishop Martin D. McLee carried his coffin from the bowels of the Church out to the hearse.  It was not a long distance, but it was a tedious journey marked by many thoughts and sentiments that this page cannot contain. However, as the door was closed on that hearse I thought of the Panama Canal and how it was constructed to lessen the amount of time it would take for maritime travel from the Atlantic and Caribbean to the Pacific.  The Panama Canal, like Bishop Martin McLee, brought people, goods and services together in a modern, creative and efficient fashion.  The Panama Canal, like Bishop Martin McLee, was a passageway that brought about possibilities amidst improbable odds. The Panama Canal, like Bishop Martin McLee, took much time to construct, but never lost its purpose when obstacles and adversities were presented. 

Bishop Martin McLee stood tall, spoke prophetically and acted courageously.  His life and ministry as a justice-seeker and comfort provider drew the circle wide, and he insured there were openings in that circle for all. He shortened the distance between the conservative and progressive cliques of the church. His acts of grace made a way for those on the margins to move closer to the center.  He opened doors and made space at the table of humanity that makes it known to all that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.  His love and life were available to Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Reconciling Ministries Network, Methodists for Social Action and others, just as much as his love and life were available to those who lay claim to power and prestige that is not theirs to claim.  His love and his life makes it possible for others to continue the journey to banish all manner of exclusion in Christ’s holy church, re-mix raps that touch hearts, script sonnets that change minds, and preach a gospel that transforms the world.

 

The Panama Canal was the answer to trivia question number seven. It was a mighty invention and shall be a marvel to behold for years to come. But, its impact is next to nothing when compared to the life and continual legacy of Bishop Martin “Duke” McLee in the struggle for justice and equity at every level of our blessed United Methodist Church and beyond.

Rev. Cedrick D. Bridgeforth, Ed. D.  

 
BMCR Has Moved to Atlanta -- BMCR @ Gammon Theological Seminary

653 Beckwith St. SW, Lower Level

P.O. Box 92007

Atlanta GA 30314

 

NEW Telephone Numbers: Voice     470-428-2251

                                              Fax         470-428-3353

 

On July 9, 2014, the Black Methodists for Church Renewal’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to relocate the BMCR office operations to the campus of Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia.  The reasons for the decision are many, but all are in keeping with the implicit and explicit principles found in our mission statement: To raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders who will be advocates for the unique needs of black people in the United Methodist Church.

ACTION

This decision by the Board, which has been affirmed by Dean/President Dr. Albert Mosley and Gammon’s leadership, is one that we believe reconnects BMCR with its history and sets us on a solid foundation from which to build our future. 

The Board and General Membership had been made aware of the pending sale of the United Methodist Publishing House facilities in Nashville, Tennessee for at least the last two years. Although details about the actual date of sale and actual date BMCR would need to relocate were not known, the reality of a move was and has been imminent. BMCR has benefited greatly from the generosity extended by the Publishing House President, Neil Alexander, and the staff. We have been able to rebuild the organization while nesting at Publishing House due to the low rent and periods of no rent. We have had up-to-date technology and access to other amenities, as needed. However, with the pending sale, the Board realized a move was necessary and was faced with considering space in another UM general agency facility, a local church or leasing commercial space. With all of those options before us, the idea of whether Nashville was still the best location for BMCR’s office came to the table.

RATIONALE

As you review the Strategic Plan for 2014-2017, you will see that BMCR has committed itself to grow stronger internally and externally as a viable voice of advocacy within the United Methodist Church and within the various contexts wherein we minister.  BMCR named membership support, financial development and engagement of young people as priorities. Thus, when the offer and opportunity to consider Gammon Theological Seminary was presented, we had to consider it in relation to our overall mission and plan. How would BMCR benefit from being located on Gammon’s campus? How would BMCR benefit from being located in Atlanta?  [And] We had to ask those questions of Gammon, as well.

 

The Board affirms its commitment to lead BMCR as an advocacy organization and we believe by locating our operations on Gammon’s campus, we will form a direct partnership with our only black United Methodist seminary, its seminarians and alumni. We will have the opportunity to work alongside Gammon administration and students on issues of justice within the Church and larger community. We will be afforded opportunities to enlist students and engage them in the work of BMCR before they are launched out into local churches and other service organizations. By doing so, at this stage of their development, BMCR will be an integral part of their ministry foundation and they can become allies and advocates for/of BMCR for the duration of their ministry service. This reality helps us engage young people, spread the mission and reach of BMCR exponentially, and support one of our own institutions in the process.

As far as the benefit of being in the Greater Atlanta Metroplex, we will have an entre into a city that is led by black people and boasts a majority black population with many issues and resources that can be a laboratory and platform for BMCR’s work. The actual space allocated on Gammon’s campus for our operations is space that far exceeds our current needs, but by working in partnership with Gammon and other entities, we have much room to grow our witness and physical presence.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We anticipate hiring new staff and beginning to set up the Atlanta office in early September. With that, we must also acknowledge the tenure and commitment of our current staff members who will not make the journey to Atlanta: Pamela Crosby and Courtney Caine. Pamela has been a faithful employee and shepherd among BMCR for seven years. Her gifts and skills as a communicator and networker has served BMCR very well and we are appreciative of the grace she has extended to the Board, the members and affiliate groups over the years. As Pamela served as BMCR’s Executive Director, she was the face and voice of BMCR at many tables and in many places. She represented BMCR with class and professionalism. Her creative ideas for fundraising, spearheading the BMCR Bible project, organizing the Africana Dinner at two General Conferences, producing regular email blast updates, and those extra touches each year in the souvenir journal are just a few things she did that went above and beyond expectations. Courtney has been with BMCR for nearly three years, and she has joined the team and made her presence and gifts known to us. She has proven to be a quick learner and a highly motivated person, becoming BMCR’s web and electronic media manager in the last year. Courtney’s gift of hospitality and commitment to service has made her a valued member of the staff and we hope, a lifelong friend of BMCR.  Pamela and Courtney will move on to other ventures, but their work and ministry among us shall remain well into the future.

 

FUTURE

We anticipate having the office operational by mid-September, but we will announce the new staff member(s) as soon as we secure the personnel. After which, we will begin scheduling various Open House events (in-person and virtual) so you become familiar with BMCR in its new place, but with the same mission.  We hope you will avail yourself to attend your Jurisdictional Meeting this October or November so you can learn more about BMCR’s developing and ongoing Advocacy agenda. We challenge you to register early for the General Membership Meeting (April 16-18, 2014) in Orlando, Florida where you will gain actual practical advocacy tools and be able to leave with a plan of how to begin addressing issues in your area.

 

In closing, we trust you will offer your gratitude to the staff and board members as you engage them. Also, if you have questions about the move to Gammon, please direct them to your Jurisdictional Coordinator. If you are interested in forming or re-constituting a local caucus, please contact the Office and we will work with you and your Jurisdictional Coordinator to get that done. We need BMCR at work in every community—whether we have a church there or not. We need BMCR at work, addressing the senseless killing of our boys and men. We need BMCR at work, speaking truth to power on behalf of those deemed powerless. We need BMCR at work, marching against every oppressive and regressive law and political tactic that could easily unravel every progressive and restorative act passed by Congress and/or enjoyed by the masses. We need BMCR at work, and we believe this move into partnership with Gammon and our membership base in Atlanta will help us do our best work.

Prayerfully submitted,

 

Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, Ed. D.
BMCR Board Chairperson 

No Value by Marilyn E. Thornton

 

Somebody said and it is a shame,

Whether cops or gangs, the problem's the same.

Somebody said and I know thatit's true.

They look at a Black and see no value.

Black boy looks at black girl, "No value," he said.

"I'd rather have one with blond hair on her head."

Black boy looks at another, "No value," he said.

"I'd just as soon fight and shoot you dead."

Corporations look at black people, say, "No value" and flee.

They take all their jobs and go overseas.

Teachers look at black children. "There's such a wide schism.

Third grade scores show who'll go to prison."

Churches look at black kids, say, "Our mission dollars

In post-colonial Africa, will go farther."

No value, no value, it costs too much

To bring black kids in America up.

Politicians look at black people and note,

"We'll just change the rules so they can't vote!"

Realtors see black people anddraw a red line.

"You may have the money but we ain't got the time.

You stay on your side, in your neighborhood.

We dare you to flourish without any goods!

And even if you manage to enter our gates,

Nothing protects from irrational hate."

So what does it matter to a cop on the street

When he sees a black child walking his beat?

Whether cops or gangs, the problem's the same.

Somebody said and it is a shame.

Somebody said and I know thatit's true.

They look at a Black and see no value.

 

By Marilyn E. Thornton. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

  

A Note from Gil Caldwell

 

"I have always marveled at Christians who, despite their lack of wealth or other resources, have repeatedly set out to bring hope, health and help to persons around the world." - Donald Messer

This is a Call for the United Methodist Church to use the wealth of its racial history—a history of tribulation and triumph, to allow what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri to encourage us to engage in a vigorous and open mission and ministry to bring "hope, health and help," in the USA, to the racial/class divides that could destroy us.

Many of us celebrate the role the United Methodist Church has fulfilled as we have addressed the racial history and present that has not only
divided our nation, but our denomination as well. I have applauded the coverage, United Methodist Communications through United Methodist News Service, has given to the anniversaries this year of significant events and actions in our national racial history. I suggest that coverage provides background for a United Methodist Church response to the racial/class polarizations that still plague the nation.

We as a denomination, internally and externally are divided in our understandings and acceptances of "the practice of homosexuality." But, I believe there is less division among us in our understandings and acceptances of racial and class justice. I, and I am sure all who read these words, believe we have an opportunity and a ministry to "bring hope, health and help" amidst the hurt, harm and hopelessness that Ferguson has revealed for all to see. A hurt, harm and hopelessness that is not limited to Ferguson.

This morning the news describes arrests that have been made of persons who had planned to engage in violence at a school in South Pasadena,
California. But, there has not yet been a bringing of charges and an arrest of the policeman who shot Michael Brown. I share this not to make a judgment, but to remind us of how perceptions become not only reality, but they serve to deepen the pain and anger of so many.

We United Methodists have in Congressman, Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, a well known and respected African American United Methodist clergyman. He, and United Methodists in Missouri and the nation, could help shape a renewed United Methodist ministry in this troubled time of race and class. I believe the "Grace" that is in and of God, will strengthen and sustain this ministry.

Gil Caldwell
A retired Elder; a member of the Rocky Mountain Conference