2017 Convocation on the Rural Church
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
August 7-9, 2017
Claire invited me to write a brief report on the recent Convocation on the Rural Church sponsored by The Duke Endowment and held at Myrtle Beach. The event was attended by about 200 persons from the North Carolina and Western North Carolina annual conferences (pastors, spouses, families, Bishops, DS’s and other leaders.) The theme was inviting and the sessions were very inspirational. A spirit of grace and openness pervaded the meeting. The worship experiences were inspiring and heart-warming.
The first plenary session was led by Dr. Robert P. Jones, from the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, DC. Dr. Jones grew up in Mississippi in a Southern Baptist family and was educated in a Baptist college and seminary. He received his doctorate at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Each of the participants received a copy of his recent book, The End of White Christian America. Dr. Jones shared excerpts from the book and recent research that added support to his thesis. His presentation was well-reasoned and passionate.
The second and third plenary sessions were led by the Reverend Dr. Ruby Sales, civil rights activist, and theologian. I was deeply moved by her gracious spirit, poignant insights, deep theological thought, and warm presence. She did not “dodge” the issues of racism and white supremacy; rather she addressed it as a “matter of the heart” which hurts persons of color as well as those who are white. In her own words, she agreed with Dr. Jones that white supremacy was dead. She encouraged Pastors to help their congregations to love all of their neighbors in the spirit of Jesus. She called upon us to work toward true democracy for all persons in America. Her sessions were warmly appreciated by the audience. Listening to Ruby Sales was a transformation experience.
The fourth plenary was led by Dr. Michael W. Waters, founder and Senior Pastor of Joy Tabernacle A. M. E. Church in Dallas, Texas, and author of Stakes Is High. Dr. Waters’ presentation Wednesday morning was a passionate account of the atrocities that have been perpetrated against blacks and other persons of color by the white majority in America over the past 400 years. He invited his hearers to “wade in the waters” of the struggle for freedom and justice for all people in America. He reminded us that the way would be difficult but that we should stay in the water.
The Convocation’s final plenary session was a panel comprised of the three plenary speakers and moderated by Mr. Robb Webb of the Duke Endowment Rural Church Section, our host for the event. All the presenters encouraged Pastors and church leaders to become more involved in the movement to bring justice and hope to all persons through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Convocation concluded with a passionate worship experience led by Jonathan Mills of the North Carolina Conference. The sermon was preached by Reverend Fred Yebuah, District Superintendent of the Orangeburg District of the South Carolina Annual Conference and father of NC Conference Pastor Lisa Yebuah of Raleigh.
The Convocation was a spiritual blessing for me and for all who shared the experience.