On Saturday, August 19, 1967, the all-Black, segregated Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church elected its 14th and final Episcopal leader, Bishop L. Scott Allen. This election and the ensuing service of consecration were the final acts to be performed by the jurisdiction. At midnight, that Saturday night, the Central Jurisdiction ceased to be, ending the period of open segregation of the races in the Methodist Episcopal Church. A sad chapter in Methodist history was now closed.
With the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction a serious and nagging question remained for Black Methodists: Will there be a permanent place in the new United Methodist church for Black Methodists? The history of race relations within the Methodist Church has in many ways mirrored the history of race relations in American society.
The question was important because it spoke to the historical reality that the Methodist Church had never accorded blacks equal status as Christian sisters and brothers. This was so—despite the tremendous contributions that Black Methodists had made to the church.
In 1967, many members of the now defunct Central Jurisdiction felt uncertainty about the status of Black Methodists in this new United Methodist Church. Groups of Black Methodists met frequently to discuss the problem of racial equality in their new denomination.
Such a group was convened in Detroit at the East Grand Boulevard Methodist Church on Nov. 20-21, 1967. For this group of clergy and lay persons, the issue at hand was the question, “How do we ensure that there will be a permanent place for Blacks in the new United Methodist Church?” In Cincinnati, Ohio on February 6, 1968, a meeting was convened of Black Methodists from around the nation to answer this question.
This group developed a plan for lobbying and presenting resolutions to facilitate the creation of a Commission on Religion and Race at the 1968 General Conference. Out of this critical meeting, BMCR—Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Inc.—was formed. The charge of BMCR, titled “Findings of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal” was submitted to the General Conference. A central component of this document was a section titled, “The Black Paper.” In this powerful section, the BMCR confessed their filings as Black Methodists and defined a new direction for themselves. To this day they have continued to define and refine directions for themselves and this denomination that have brought respect, growth, and renewed commitment to God and God’s purpose for The United Methodist Church.
BMCR continues to be a necessary force for change and accountability in the United Methodist Church today. This change and accountability spills over and benefits the Church’s global body. The tremendous need for Black leadership at the Episcopal and General Conference levels remains. The Church must be encouraged to maintain a global perspective especially toward developing African and Caribbean nations. The local church must be empowered with capable lay and clergy leadership. So much is still to be done.
BMCR was instrumental in helping the denomination launch numerous landmark mission initiatives, including the Black College Fund (1970), the church wide missional priority on Strengthening and Developing the Ethnic Minority Local Church (1976 to 1988), and Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century (1996).
The list of ministries created and continued with the aid of BMCR include Africa University, Black College Fund, Gammon Theological Seminary and the Minority Self-Determination Fund.
NORTH GEORGIA LOCAL CAUCUS
Even though individuals within North Georgia maintained membership in General BMCR and Southeastern Jurisdiction BMCR (SEJBMCR), retaining a local caucus was a constant struggle. However, maintaining a local caucus was a constant struggle. Some North Georgia Bishops and District Superintendents, abused their positions of authority and discouraged the affiliation of Black clergy with BMCR. The appointment process was weaponized to coerce compliance and restraint from addressing issues of social justice. The threat of retaliation created an atmosphere of isolation and mistrust. Churches went from connectional to congregational in their existence. Competition among some clergy began to diminish the true experience of Christian Community among our churches. The needs of laity and the local church suffered.
A Steering Committee was formed to address the need for a viable local caucus. In 2015, a Nominations Committee was formed, which presented a full slate of Officers and Standing Committee Chairpersons. NGBMCR was reconstituted with a full Executive Committee. Like General and SEJBMCR, NGBMCR is a member funded organization, which enables us to remain independent. Our challenge has been to restore the “connection” and “rebuild the walls” of our village as we continue to tell the story of “those who stayed” despite racism.
In 2015, Rev. Dr. Byron E. Thomas, Chairperson, led the organization in addressing white privilege and instituted the Annual NGBMCR Revival. Dr. Thomas went on to serve as Coordinator SEJBMCR for a full term. Because of his outstanding leadership, the membership voted to suspend the rules to allow him to serve for a fourth year. During his tenure Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson and the Cabinet attended the SEJBMCR Annual Meeting.
In response to the continued lynching of African Americans, after the shooting of Michael Brown and the militarization of law enforcement against the escalating Black Lives Matter protests, the newly elected Executive Board of NGBMCR chose to submit a resolution. Rev. Dr. Byron E. Thomas (2015-2018 Chairperson, NGBMCR) and Mr. Wendell Love (Past Chairperson, Constitution and By-Laws Committee) worked tirelessly on this effort. Standing with the community, North Georgia Black Methodists for Church Renewal (NGBMCR) petitioned the North Georgia Annual Conference during June 16-19, 2015 to adopt a Resolution to create a Quadrennial Missional priority to target the elimination of violence in our communities for submission to the 2016 General Conference.
The shooting of the nine parishioners at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Emanuel) was revealed by Bishop B. Michael Watson (NGUMC) on June 17, 2015 as the petition was being presented at the North Georgia Annual Conference sessions. The petition General Commission on the Elimination of Violence—Missional Priority was approved by the North Georgia Annual Conference. At the 2016 General Conference the legislation was blocked in committee and did not make it to the floor for a vote.
NGBMCR hosted SEJBMCR Annual Meeting for three consecutive years from 2016-2018. In 2018, DuWanna Thomas was elected Chairperson, the caucus hosted both the SEJBMCR Annual Meeting and the General BMCR 52nd Annual Meeting. There were ten Bishops including nine Ebony Bishops in attendance from across the United States.
Bishop Latrelle Easterling*, Northeastern Jurisdiction, Baltimore-Washington Episcopal Area
Bishop Tracy Smith Malone*, North Central Jurisdiction, Ohio East Episcopal Area
Bishop Cynthia Moore-KoiKoi*, Northeastern Jurisdiction, Pittsburg Episcopal Area
Bishop John Schol, Northeastern Jurisdiction, New Jersey Episcopal Area
Bishop Julius C. Trimble*, North Central Jurisdiction, Indiana Episcopal Area
Bishop Charles W. Jordan*, Retired, North Central Jurisdiction
Bishop James R. King*, Retired, Southeastern Jurisdiction
Bishop Jonathon Keaton*, Retired, North Central Jurisdiction
Bishop Marcus Matthews*, Retired, Northeastern Jurisdiction
Bishop Alfred L. Norris*, Retired, South Central Jurisdiction
*Denotes Ebony Bishop
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koi Koi preached the sermon for the Communion Service. Bishop Tracy Smith Malone presided during Holy Communion. These meetings would not have been successful without Hatti Jackson, Jean Brown, Ben Hill UMC and a tremendous group of volunteers from North Georgia churches.
NGBMCR implemented several new initiatives. In addition to the Annual NGBMCR Revival, the NGBMCR Hush Arbor for Annual Conference, NGBMCR Week at Camp Glisson for our youth and NGBMCR Family day for fun and fellowship.
In addition to the work of the Executive Committee to advocate for the needs of Africans Americans, NGBMCR works closely with North Georgia Conference Commission on Religion and Race to address issues within the Annual Conference. CCORR has become an essential advocacy partner under the leadership of Rev. Brian Tillman, Chairperson.
In the aftermath of the lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Tony McDade and far too many others, NGBMCR is planning a Black Church Summit to be convened by Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson.
Updated August 2020
Sermon Dr. Bobby McClain, SEJBMCR 2018
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Our Time Under God Is Now!