'Beyond powerful,' woman says of black church conf.
"Everybody was telling me this morning, 'Dianne you're shining, you're glowing,' and I really do feel like that," Gordon told Baptist Press July 18. "I feel like 'wow.' I'm good."
Baptized a year ago at Wake Eden Baptist Church in Bronx, N.Y., the 52-year-old Gordon works fulltime as a registered nurse. She lost her brother to murder two years ago in her native Jamaica and is in the middle of a divorce. She also is pursuing a doctorate in education and leadership at the University of Phoenix.
"I needed the story of Nehemiah and all of those other classes, and to see the challenges that other black women have been through, and with Christ triumphed," Gordon said of the conference. "[It] has given me this 'Yes, I can do it, with Christ; just put Him first.' And that was the message that I was getting....
"It's been beyond powerful for me, just a wonderful experience."
Gordon was among more than 800 pastors and laypersons who attended the annual LifeWay black church life conference, July 11–15 at Ridgecrest, N.C., to coach, empower and disciple African American leaders, families and children. Worship services, Bible study, more than 150 workshops, Christian service opportunities, dinners and recreational events filled the week.
Nightly worship leaders based their sermons on Nehemiah 4:11-14, with each preacher focusing on a portion of the conference theme acronym LEAD, shortened from launch, engage and advance into destiny.
Former Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, encouraged leaders in the July 11 evening sermon to wait for power from the Holy Spirit to "launch" ministry. Anthony Dockery, senior pastor of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, Calif., told leaders July 12 to follow God's "rules of engagement" in engaging Christianity, culture and the community to effect change in these perilous times.
Geoffrey Guns, senior pastor of Second Calvary Baptist Church [National Baptist Convention USA] in Norfolk, Va., encouraged leaders July 13 to persevere in advancing in their ministry assignment. In the final evening sermon July 14, H.B. Charles Jr., senior pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., encouraged leaders to overcome discouragement in reaching their destiny.
The speakers joined other pastors, church leaders and denominational employees in leading daily morning workshops which totaled 150 over the span of the conference.
The workshops addressed numerous contemporary societal issues, including abortion, incarceration, the U.S. presidential election, fear and faith, sex trafficking, same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, and financial planning. Discipleship and ministry topics included apologetics, marriage, missions, parenting, associate ministry, evangelism, church growth, reentry ministry to the formerly incarcerated, using technology in worship, obedience, navigating the SBC, preaching and perseverance.
Political engagement among African American Christians, including the 2016 presidential election, was the focus of two workshops on contemporary issues. Steven Harris, director of advocacy in the Washington office of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, emphasized the complexity of concerns facing African Americans in voting, such as what it means to be pro-life.
"The gravity of the life issue can't be overstated, particularly for people of color," but the pro-life ethic must be expanded to the entirety of human life from conception to physical death, Harris said. "We're doing this in the ERLC in terms of how we talk about what it means to be pro-life, that it just doesn't revolve around what is a very ... important decision, but it starts from there and it goes from womb to tomb."
Harris acknowledged a certain lack of privilege for African Americans to cast a vote based on a single aspect of the pro-life ethic, such as abortion, or on one specific political platform issue.
"What is often concluded about professed Christians [who vote Democratic] is that they don't care about the life issue," Harris said, summarizing his conversations with a diversity of politicians in Washington. "I've heard that conclusion simplistically stated on the Hill, and I've had to push back against that, because that doesn't acknowledge the complexity."
"For individuals in the African American community, in particular professed Christians, there's a complexity of concerns [in voting] that takes into account a number of issues," Harris said. "To distill that Christian's faithfulness down to what they do on one of those issues, I think speaks to [a perspective born of] a certain amount of privilege to be able to do that."
"Who-so-ever will" choir
Volunteers were recruited on the opening night of the conference for the week's worship choir. The "Who-so-ever will" choir, as it was named, included perhaps 50 men and women who committed to daily practice and nightly singing.
Favorite traditional hymns and contemporary ballads rang out during each evening service, engaging the audience in heartfelt, robust praise and worship.
Coordinating and leading worship were Roy Cotton Sr., director of African American Ministries with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and Roy Cotton II, director of music and creative arts with Oakcliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas, and his wife Niya Cotton, praise and worship director of St. John Church in Southlake, Texas.
Russell Andrews, minister of music at East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., led morning praise and worship July 12–15 at 6:15 a.m. as well as daily music time for children July 12-14, culminating in a children's choral presentation during the July 14 evening worship.
Black denominational servants
The Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network, open to African American Southern Baptist denominational professionals, elected officers during its July 13 business meeting.
Officers are president Charles Grant, a LifeWay church consultant; vice president Port Wilburn, interim director of missions of the San Francisco Peninsula Baptist Association; treasurer Ira Antoine Jr., director of Bivocational Ministry with the BGCT; and secretary Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor of Baptist Press.
Joining LifeWay as conference sponsors were SBC entities the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and GuideStone Financial Resources as well as the SBC Executive Committee, the National African American Fellowship of the SBC and Woman's Missionary Union.
The 2017 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference is scheduled July 17-21 at Ridgecrest.