Hampton Minister’s Conference

Starting Over

So, let’s see.  I earned 30 credits toward a Master of Divinity at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, completed the Evans-Smith Leadership Institute of STVUU and the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, served as a Communion Server for the Hampton University Minister’s Conference, President of the Pamunkey Baptist Association Sunday School and Literary Union, PBA Treasurer, First Vice-Moderator, and Moderator as well as Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.  And now, I am a church member with no office nor title.  Attending a funeral at Trinity over the weekend, one of the deacons politely addressed me, “Hi John.  How are you doing?”  I have always told myself and others that a title is not important to me.  But, I have to confess that I found it strange that this man had addressed me by my first name for the first time in about 20 years.  I did not have a seat in a pulpit that I was welcomed in by my predecessor.  This was a weird feeling.

Had I remained where I was, I suppose I could have risen higher.  I was a friend to some movers and shakers in the denomination.  Finishing my degree and putting my name out there would have gone a long way.  Or, perhaps I could have gone non-denominational and sought the position of evangelist, prophet, or conference teacher as a part of some modern “Five-Fold Ministry” movement.  Making the right connections would put me on a fast track to greater notoriety.  Even then, I could still keep my credentials as a Protestant clergyman.  

There is no fast track to rising in the ranks of Orthodoxy.  Attending seminary is not to be considered or recommended to the bishop until after at least five years in the church in good standing.  Even after earning an M.Div, there is no guarantee of becoming a priest immediately as the bishop (through prayer and the needs of the church) decides where to assign graduates and when, or if to ordain a seminary graduate into the priesthood.  Skipping from one jurisdiction to the other in the hopes of being ordained is not permitted except by the bishops involved in such a change.  As for leaving the church and starting a new Orthodox parish, whatever one would call such a church, it would not be recognized as Orthodox.

Hanging with Subdeacon Paul Abernathy.  He is the Director of FOCUS Pittsburgh and a rising voice in the Orthodox Church.

Hanging with Subdeacon Paul Abernathy. He is the Director of FOCUS Pittsburgh and a rising voice in the Orthodox Church.

I am reminded about the value of humility.  Jesus taught us not to be the one at the wedding feast trying to get the important seat because someone more important than you might show up.  Instead, take the lowest seat in the house and there is a chance that someone will bring you up higher (Luke 14:7-11).  Exchanging my comfort and privilege in the high seat of the Baptist Pastorate to be just another Orthodox Christian in the congregation does not take away from who I am.  If anything, starting over can be a breath of fresh air in my spiritual journey.  I can re-learn what ministry and my calling is all about.  I am free to explore where God may have me to serve rather what others expect of me.

Thus far, I am a bit of a reporter and blogger as I strive to organize the VA Chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black.  Fr. James has asked me to be a part of the evangelism team.  And I have been asked to consider teaching a Sunday School lesson.  I doubt if my name will be mentioned alongside the well-know voices on AFR or OCN.  But, there is a place for me here in the Orthodox Church.  All I have to do is prepare for whatever God has for me to do and do well with where I am assigned.  In the mean time, this “lowest seat” is a good thing.  I am worshiping with good brothers and sisters in the faith.

 

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Friday): Reality Check

Then David took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook.  He put them in a shepherd’s bag to store away, and in his hand was his sling.  He then approached the Philistine.

I Kingdoms 17:20 (Orthodox Study Bible)

I Samuel  17:40 (Western Bibles)

Onward Wall (© John Gresham)

One of the great pitfalls of preaching is that we want to sound like someone else who is very popular.  In my recent e-mail exchanges with Archbishop Puhalo, I am reminded of lessons learned from the AME Bishop Adam Richardson about Prophetic Sermon Preparation.  I am called to preach with my own voice, the one God  gave me.  I have always admired the wisdom and sermonic pace of Gardner C. Taylor.  Other than him and perhaps one or two other “old school” preachers, I don’t try to follow anyone’s style.  Even with those giants of the pulpit, I am well aware of my limitations.  I lack all of their education.  I have tried from time to time, but, I cannot “whoop” (the expressive pattern of repetition and tone usually found in African-American preaching).  So, I tend to study the text that I am going to preach from for a couple of days, create an outline similar to the one described in my last post, and proceed to write a manuscript.

Call and Response worship is a hallmark of the Black American Church.  We preachers expect to hear some “Amens” during the sermon.  The problem is when we focus too much getting a response from the congregation and not enough on the content of our messages.  We wind up preaching stuff that is only meant to draw responses, or bury our good messages with an overabundance of response begging, especially toward the end of the sermon.  I confess, I like to hear some responses as much as the next preacher.  But, my task is to declare the Gospel without stroking the needs of my ego.

On Good Friday, seven ministers of the Pamunkey Baptist Association gave seven minute sermons on the seven final words of our Lord as he was being crucified.  My contribution to the service went over well enough.  It was brief (even shorter than my allotted time), insightful, and did get a response though not the loudest nor most enthusiastic.  But, this was a service and not a competition.  If I simply apply myself to crafting a good message under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I need not concern myself with time limits nor responses.  The advice I got from my former campus minister, Rev. Adrian Arnold, will be my guide for the pulpit, “Always be genuine in your faith.”

Not This Year

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.

What Fills This Chamber? (© John Gresham)

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.

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Second Thursday)

“In truth I tell you, all human sins will be forgiven, and all the blasphemies ever uttered; but anyone who blasphemies against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” Mark 3:28,29

Ours is a path of spirit, not of flesh.  Our struggle is one of spirit, not of flesh.  This is not to say that our sins of flesh are minor and not to be rejected.  Indeed, as we strive to walk in the spirit, we are obligated to put our natural desires under submission with the power of God that dwells inside of us.  The gift of forgiveness should never be a crutch or excuse for intentional bad behavior nor living with no direction.  Jesus offers this gift to encourage us to follow him and worship the Father in spirit and truth.  For those who sincerely repent, God forgives the sins of the flesh and wicked words of our mouths.

Hampton University Chapel Tower (© John Gresham)

To believe and proclaim that the Spirit of God is evil is a different and far more deadly sin.  This blasphemy rejects the Lord’s divinity and his ability to heal and restore the souls that come to him.  It denounces those who seek him and denies the clear evidence of his power.  For the adulterer, thief, or other sinner of flesh; there is hope with sincere repentance.  The Holy Spirit can dwell can correct such a person.  The Spirit cannot dwell in one who refuses to open the door of his heart.  The Jerusalem law copiers condemned themselves for not having faith in, or at least being open to, the original giver of life.  Be aware of self-righteousness and merciless morality.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (First Saturday)

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. – Mark 1:35

Jesus became very popular in Capernaum and throughout Galilee.  He was the teacher of greater authority than that of the scribes and priest.  Demons proclaimed his holiness as he drove them out of their victims.  He healed all sorts of illnesses from fevers to skin diseases.  Despite his commands that the healed should keep the blessing to themselves, they couldn’t help but to tell others of the Lord’s power.

 

Continue On The Path (© John Gresham)

Yet Jesus did not get caught up in the praises of people.  He spent a lonely time in a lonely place to communicate with the father in heaven.  He healed out of compassion ordering that his evident power not be used to promote him.  And even when he left one place to the next seeking freedom of movement and found none, he resided in the empty places, yet still pursued by crowds.  True holy power is not necessarily defined by the number of people who gather around it.  True holy power is defined by how it seeks to be close to its source, how it responds to the needs it sees, and how it responds to the crowds that follow it.  Jesus didn’t get to big to go to his own prayer closet.  Nor did he have to pimp the people he showed mercy on to hype his name.  Nor did he revel in all of the attention given to him.

Let us not be swayed by the modern ministers who misuse their calling.  Let we  who are called to proclaim the Gospel not get caught up in ourselves.  Devote time alone to pray.  Give out of love with no desire for self glory.  Live humbly enough to have peace in mind.  If we are faithful in these things, people will come to us.  Perhaps in mass, or no more than a handful.  But, true holy power will draw those who seek healing and the word of God.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

P.S.  A special thanks to Dr. Gina Stewart who preached a fantastic sermon on this text “Crowd Control” at the Hampton University Minister’s Conference in 2009.