I will not attend the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference this year. For those of you who have read my post about it last year on Baystride Images, you know how important the Hampton conference is to me. I attend and take notes on all of the lectures and sermons as a means of theological training as I can’t afford to return to seminary. I get a chance to fellowship with old friends and colleagues and make a few new ones. I spend time with the relatives as they provide me with lodging and food for the week. More than once, God has recharged my spiritual batteries and given me direction as I worshiped with my brother and sister preachers from across the country. This year, it will not happen.
Let me get this reason out-of-the-way; I can’t afford to go. Fifteen-hundred hour employees don’t have much money to go to conferences. We needed to make budget cuts at the church and my expenses should not receive any special privileges. The Baptist General Convention of Virginia will hold its annual session at the end of the month in Norfolk. I will just take a day or two off and go there instead.
Even if I had the money, there is a greater reason why I should sit out the Hampton Minister’s Conference this year. I disagree with the topic and selection of lecturers and preachers. Oh, there is nothing wrong with the topic, “A Global Church Serving A Global Christ, In A Global Age.” But, not a single featured minister is from either of the three oldest and largest Christian bodies. The Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopal Church), Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism dwarf every American denomination combined. While an Orthodox clergyman wouldn’t perform the communion service, surely they have a bishop who can lecture about the worldwide spread of the Gospel. As African-American church leaders, we should give some recognition to the church that included black leadership since Acts 13:1 (Lucius of Cyrene and Simeon called NIGER) and has been a part of Egypt and Ethiopia for two thousand years. Despite their bad press over child sexual abuse, Roman Catholic clergy play an important role in overseas development. I served with the priest from the Our Lady Of Consolation Order in Kenya 20 years ago and was quite impressed with their practical and spiritual work. While they are few in number, black Episcopalians still exist. The church played a major role in our struggle for rights in this country and still maintain vital institutions in our community. Some of their priest (of any race) can match (and sometimes exceed) the best of our “traditional negro church” preachers in sermon content and delivery.
A colleague and friend in Canada noted that none of the featured ministers are from Protestant denominations in foreign countries. There are AME (African Methodist Episcopal) pastors in West Africa, Baptist in the Congo Basin, and COGICs (Church Of God In Christ) all over the Caribbean for decades. If the topic of the conference is supposed to be about a “Global Church,” wouldn’t it make sense to have someone serving somewhere else on the globe to speak to us? Even if we were to ignore the large, liturgical churches, those who planned the conference should have had the foresight to bring in a fellow Protestant to this historic event. While Dr. David Goatley of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention is a featured lecturer, not having a Guianan, Senegalese, or South African preacher gives the idea that our decades of spreading the Gospel hasn’t produced any fruit that has a message for us.
I could understand such oversights had the topic been, “Meeting The Needs Of Our Broken Communities,” “Prophetic Praise In Perilous Times,” or the like. But, for the Executive Board and selection committee of one of the most prestigious gatherings of African-American ministers to have such a mis-match of topic and presenters is very disturbing. It shows that the black church is no different from the evangelicals that went to the former Soviet Block nations at the fall of communism to “spread the Gospel” when the Gospel was already there with the Orthodox who kept the faith despite brutal persecution. Rather than truly expand our thinking with Christian witnesses beyond our comfort zones, we are presented with people who we already know “can sho-nuff preach.” If the topic for next year is more domestic in nature with likewise speakers (hopefully Joel Gregory), I may attend the Hampton University 99th Annual Ministers’ Conference. This year, I am taking my broke self to work.