A lot of people have heard of the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. I was thinking the other day, the reason why people have a sense of belonging for a community or a city or an estate is because of the people who live there. The experiences and support they bring to that environment promotes a positive culture that draws everyone who lives there to feel as though they belong. They become protective and nurturing of their “village”.
That is the same way we should think about our finances. You do not get to financial stability and freedom by guesswork, feelings or emotions. It is an act of intentional commitment, discipline, education and accountability and it will involve you, and those you are willing to listen to.
I am a firm believer that money is a magnifying tool that reveals the intent and the character of your soul. Who you really are will always be revealed in the abundance of money or lack of it in your life. I have been around people who seemed humble and kind when they did not have money, until they reached a place of financial prosperity. All of a sudden, a sense of being rude and dismissive becomes appealing as though it is supposed to be fashionable. Pride becomes a regular smoothie partaken to make sure that you prove to everyone you made it.
On the other hand, having a lack of money can bring out the insecurities, fear, withdrawal and lack of confidence of embracing true purpose. I have also seen people sabotage great relationships, their integrity and character, because the struggle of not having enough turned them to desperation. They ended up doing things they wished they had not, or going back into situations they should not have, to get back to that place of financial comfort.
The reality is, having financial stability is a great feeling. Waking up each day with the amazing peace that you can pay every bill or anything you owe and have so much left over is a wonderful blessing to experience. However, the biggest mistake we make including myself is, camping in that place of wishing that could happen if we are not yet walking in that reality.
To embark on a journey to success regarding your finances, it has to begin with your outlook. What do you think of yourself regarding money? Proverbs 23:7 KJV states “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he”. Your outward behavior and reaction including your relationship with money is a direct reflection of how you think about yourself.
To create an outlook that will push you and motivate you to a healthy relationship with your finances, including being vulnerable and honest with yourself, as to why you push yourself each day to financial success, practice the “4 C’s to a positive outlook on money” as given to me by Holy Spirit”:
Be willing to face yourself and examine the true motives of your heart. How do you view money? Is it dreadful? Are you stressed out every time its payday or do you have a heart of gratitude for Gods provision? Are you courageous to admit that a lack of money has created a void that you need God to fill? Are you willing to admit that you have used money to attain a status that will make people like you? You have to be courageous to face yourself on your outlook of money.
You have to commit to change. Denial is not a choice. It is an invisible wall that you create in the circumference of your mind to convince you to cope with the assumption that everything is okay when it is not. Commit to have a positive outlook regarding money. This will give you a fresh perspective of the root cause of your behavior and relationship to money. If money is a tool that motivates you to live a purposeful life, it will be revealed and you will be encouraged to continue working hard. If it is not, you can pause and find out why and adjust your outlook to route you in the right path.
Confidence is very connected with faith. God always tells you to believe the opposite of what you feel or see. Sometimes at your worst, when you are experiencing lack, God encourages you that “He is your Shepherd and you shall not want” Psalms 23: 1.
As a child of faith, you have to remember that God orchestrates each of our steps and as we live yielded to Him, He will guide us to wisdom, knowledge, education that will equip us to great stewardship. However, we have to first be confident in Him. I am learning that daily, God never gets tired of empowering us with confidence. Seek Him, ask Him, He is right there, and He is willing to release to you the measure of confidence you need to handle the financial obligations at hand.
Consistency is what icing is to a cake, what syrup is to a pancake, what salt is to soup. Have you ever had soup with no salt? There is no taste to it. But you add a bit of salt and the flavors seem to be awakened as you drink it. It is the secret ingredient that so many of us miss. We start, but don’t finish. We set the budget, but don’t follow it. We open the savings account, but never deposit any money in it. I look at consistency as pacing yourself to savor the sweetness of life.
I love drinking tea. I specifically enjoy a nice cup of Kenyan brewed tea. It takes a special skill to brew a really good cup of Kenyan tea. To add up the flavors and make sure the taste of it is not bitter. The key is time. I consider myself a “master” at making tea especially for a large group of people but, it took me years and years of making tea everyday to learn. I could make tea in my sleep. Was it exciting? No! In fact, sometimes I dreaded it. But, when I see people close their eyes and smell the tea as they drink it with a smile and savor the taste, it brings me great joy!
It is the same way with consistency. You are not going to have butterflies and feel a sense of excitement truth be told you may get bored, not want to do it, dread it, but that is when you should do it. Be consistent in your commitment to be courageously confident about your outlook on money and watch how open you will be to learning how to be a wise steward of what God has blessed you with.
Believers in Kenya having a church meeting underneath a tree using materials from Urban Ministries, Inc.
How many of us have an old Bible on a bookshelf, a stack of old curriculum stashed in a closet, or several years of commentaries stored away in a desk? Did you know that in Africa and other parts of the world, some people are willing to walk miles just to get even one of those older pieces of Biblical literature?
Love Packages, a nondenominational nonprofit, takes on the arduous task of sending more than 1,500 tons of donated curriculum each year from churches and individuals nationwide to people all over the world who desperately seek them. They’ve got two warehouses – one in Decatur, Alabama, and one in Butler, Illinois. At various collection points around each state, people bring their used Biblical literature in any way they can – in horse trailers, cars, vans, trucks, and tractor trailers. Nine major publishing houses, including Urban Ministries, Inc., also make donations. Once the materials reach the Love Packages warehouses, more than 1,000 volunteers go through it and sort it into six categories: Bibles, reference materials, Sunday School literature, books, magazines, and daily devotionals (music/tracts/miscellaneous). Then, in the host countries, the materials are delivered in ocean-shipping containers to distribution points where various ministries, such as Every Home for Christ Assemblies of God or Evangelical Fellowship, distribute it.
The organization’s website is filled with testimonials from all over the world. One from South Africa this past February reads: “We had meetings last week at New Stock Road. After the preaching at the campaign, 46 people gave their lives to Jesus and we gave them the Christian material that we got from you, and also the little booklet of John and Romans, it was a great time of joy. Love in Jesus Name.”
Steve Schmidt, the founder of Love Packages, shared an experience he had on a visit to Zambia in 1999. It started when he read an article about the first elected president Frederick Chiluba, who was explaining that he was a born again Christian and he wanted to do everything in his power to bring the principles, precepts and powers of God to bear on his country. However, he didn’t have any literature. He wrote a letter to President Chiluba explaining his organization and he was invited to visit the country to help them out. When he met with a Bishop who oversaw 700 churches, he learned that most of the pastors didn’t have a Bible and none had Sunday School materials.
“That was in ‘99. We’ve improved that some. We’ve sent about 400 tons of literature into Zambia and we’ve been shipping into Zimbabwe now too,” said Schmidt, who said in general they ship 20 to 40 tons of literature every week. The 20-ton containers they use cost between $3,500 to $9,000. “Every 20-ton container has at least a half a million pieces of literature in it.”
A distribution center overseas receives commentaries from Urban Ministries, Inc.
Schmidt started Love Packages in the summer of 1975. He had four-year-old old Bibles and initially thought he’d use it to prepare lessons. But God had other plans.
“I argued with the Lord for about three months. Told him I was going to use it to prepare lessons. He said, ‘No, you’re not,’” said Schmidt, who questioned, “Who am I going to give an old Bible to? I don’t know anybody who wants it.”
But then he thought of some men who had just graduated from a Bible college and were going home to their home countries in Ghana, Nigeria, India, and various other countries. He wrote them a letter, asking if they had any need for old Biblical literature.
“I didn’t know there was a great need,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t know anything! But the letters seemed like they were only gone a couple of days and they were back, and said, ‘Yes, we can use as much as we can get here, as soon as you can get it here.’”
Schmidt and his wife started in the basement of their home and in the first year sent 60 little boxes overseas from August to January. As he went to various small church events held in his community, from the Baptist chicken dinner to the Methodist Pancake breakfast, the donations started to pour in. By the second year, people began dropping off boxes on their front and back porches and their living room was full of boxes.
“It grew that second year to three and a half tons. And then, the next year, seven tons, and eleven tons… And our goal for 2020 is to ship 2,020 tons!” said Schmidt. “Even with COVID-19, we’re still at 660 tons of literature that we shipped this year so far. And that’s just the literature that’s being used in different places. We’ll send enough literature this year for about somewhere between 60 and 80 million people to read.”
Between the two states in Alabama and Illinois, Love Packages maintains three full-time staff members in each state and is supported entirely by donations from churches and individuals. Youth groups or men/women ministries going on short-term mission trips, and even families in Illinois at the Butler warehouse are able to come and stay in two dormitories, one with 25-30 rooms and the other 10-15 rooms. Groups can stay for up to a week.
“You can eat dinner with us. There’s probably a hundred or so stories. We have a chalkboard and there are stories about different testimonies that happened and people who got saved or healed or got a book for the first time or etc. And we tell stories during the lunchtime and try to encourage people to think eternally and pursue God with all their hearts,” said Schmidt.
The Rev. Otis Moss III records clips for the film “The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery” at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Courtesy photo
For more than half of his life, the Rev. Otis Moss III has sought to find ways to merge the cadence of the sermon with the creativity of movies.
In addition to being senior pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Moss founded Unashamed Media Group, which he described as “creating small films we hope will be used to teach, to inform, to inspire and shape homiletics in a different way.
The 22-minute sermonic film features Moss preaching in his predominantly black megachurch before stained-glass windows that depict African American and church history. Interspersed between his words are images of a black actor pausing to tie his running shoes, clips of two drastically different movies released a century apart but both titled “The Birth of a Nation,” and footage of persecution and protest.
Moss, 49, is an Auburn Seminary senior fellow known for his commitment to social justice and a minister whose sermons placed him on Baylor University’s list of top 12 preachers in the English-speaking world. He learned film editing as a teenager tasked with cutting “Twilight Zone” episodes so a local Cleveland TV station could include commercials. Citing Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, he says, “My favorite filmmakers were people who were influenced by spirituality.”
He talked to Religion News Service about his newest project — which was first released in place of his usual sermon — and how he hopes it will educate people of faith, African American parents and clergy who might consider a new approach to their preaching.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to use the format of film to preach about the life and death of Ahmaud Arbery?
One, I started out in film, cinematography in college and thought it was one of the best mediums to communicate the challenges we face in America today. The other aspect of it is people learn in different ways. Some are visual, some are auditory, some are kinetic learners. And bringing the element of visual and auditory together reaches more people.
Cone’s book lays out the cross as a lynching event, an innocent person being lynched, executed because of his ethnicity, his location. The perception of Jewish people in the Roman mind connects with the way black people have been viewed in America, and our color has been weaponized by Confederate and antebellum thinking.
Within the first minute of the film you tie the current coronavirus to what seem to be various forms of racism. Why did you make that link?
Racism is a virus. It infects the spirit. It infects the soul. This is nothing new that I’m sharing. Dr. (Martin Luther) King spoke of it in the same manner. Howard Thurman talked about it as being a spiritual infection. Frederick Douglass spoke about racism and white supremacy as a virus that infects the soul. As we are all sheltering in place to recognize the invisible enemy of COVID-19, there is also an invisible enemy that affects our behavior, being racism, privilege, the inability for the heart to be compassionate to people who are different but not deficient.
You also spoke about the “illusion of blackness as a threat.” How would you encourage people, including people of faith, to address that or counter that?
I would challenge all people of faith to become educated about the weaponizing of black skin in American culture. (Scholars like Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Michelle Alexander and Ibram X. Kendi) speak about the ideology and the myth of black criminality, and people of faith must view Jesus as a person who was disinherited, an outsider. His culture, ethnicity and the fact he was a dark-skinned Palestinian Jew was weaponized by Roman culture.
You use the verb “weaponize” throughout the film. Why?
At the turn of the (19th) century, Reconstruction, the myth of black criminality stated, if you see someone who is darker, they are dangerous. Their skin, their skin color is viewed as a weapon because they do not have the intellectual capacity or moral rooting of people of a lighter hue. So our skin was weaponized. The 12-year-old who walks into a room is viewed as 24 and dangerous because years are added to his physical appearance. The person, like myself, who’s 6′-3″ (and) 200 pounds, I have stepped into an elevator and had people clutch their purse, or, in one case, someone screamed when they saw me because my skin had been weaponized.
Stained-glass windows depict African American and church history at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
You also list dozens of names, including Ahmaud Arbery’s, who have died. So in addition to being a requiem for him, is this sermon-film about more than one person’s death?
Yes, it is. It speaks about the death of unarmed individuals. It speaks about the death of people who were killed while running while black, eating, sitting, selling something on the corner. We have too many examples of women and men who have been killed, not because of criminal activity, but because of the weight of history.
You recount how historically blacks have been prevented from reading the Bible and from preaching without a white leader present. Is your new film-sermon sort of the opposite of that?
Yes, it is. There has been a myth that has been passed on in America that black faith made black people docile when the historical evidence shows slave owners did all they could to ensure that black people did not read the Bible and did not preach without a white person present to tell them what they’re to say and watch over what they say. And this sermonic film is a historical response to that: the ability to be able to tell our own story in ways our ancestors were not able to tell the story.
You also mention a broader view of sacredness. Can you explain why you included the sacredness of a jogger in that list?
Ahmaud Arbery, in an undated family photo. Courtesy photo
Within black spirituality, all aspects of living are sacred. There is no separation of sacred and secular: singing, caring for your children, working and jogging, which brings us right back to Ahmaud Arbery. The idea of caring for your body is also a sacred act. Within all traditions, your body is a gift that you are to care for because it is the only one that you will receive from God.
What is your advice to black parents who, as you say in this film, wonder if their children will “make it home today”?
You must tell your children the truth without instilling debilitating fear in their heart. Give them the power of truth and also the power of possibility. They have within them the tools to change our democracy. This is what we teach in our household to our children: how important voting is and judges and DAs (district attorneys) and being seen on juries. And learning, leading is critical to changing the world.
But there are some rules you must understand when you step out of this door. Some people will not see you as a frolicking teenager. They will see you as a threat, and you must use your mind and your spirit hand in hand so that you may come home safely.
Do you view the film as a message for a wider audience than African Americans, and, if so, what is it you hope others will take away from it?
Absolutely. The response from the worship service has been astounding, especially from people outside of the African American community. One person shared it gave him language to have a conversation with their children.
Beyond the sermon on Sunday, how do you expect your message to be used?
It’s my hope it’ll be used as a teaching tool: Classrooms, organizations, institutions will use this to talk about America’s original sin being race, racism, white privilege. It will be used to talk about how sermons can be shaped in the 21st century by merging the art of film and the tradition of sermonic presentation together. It will be used to inspire people who feel as if their spiritual tank has been depleted and now they have a little bit more energy, in the words of my father, to just go on a little bit longer.
Bishop Vashti McKenzie has started her own project to inspire gratitude during COVID-19. The aptly named Gratitude Project focuses on inspiring feelings of gratitude, inspiration and joy to combat anxiety amid COVID-19.
“I’m often asked, ‘How do you stay positive in a crisis?’ The truth is that the pool of pessimism will call my name before the porch of positivity invites me to sit down,” said Bishop McKenzie in a news release. Bishop McKenzie serves as the 117th elected and consecrated bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was the first woman elected to episcopal office in the more than two centuries history of the denomination. “How you start your day is important. I practice my spiritual disciplines daily whether through prayer, praise, study, meditation, worship, fasting and more. I read devotionals or a book, and use various apps like Abide and Calm.”
McKenzie has partnered with April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington, D.C. bureau chief for American Urban Radio Network; Carla Harris, renown financial expert and senior client advisor managing director at Morgan Stanley; Sybrina Fulton, founder of The Trayvon Martin Foundation; and American gospel musician Earnest Pugh. She’s encouraging everyone to send their gratitude moments in to be shared via social media. You can find additional words of gratitude at http://thisisyourwakeupcallonline.com and on Bishop Vashti’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“I’m inviting everyone to join me in a special Gratitude Initiative: pray a gratitude prayer daily; write at least two things about what you’re grateful for, whether in your journal or recorded on your computer, tablet or cell phone; and share what you’re grateful for online or on social media,” said Bishop McKenzie in a news release. “Let’s get this gratitude train going and keep it going! You have to work for it, so love your neighbor as yourself. Let’s be partners in hope, carriers of optimism and purveyors of joy!”
The 37-year-old is a foster care graduate who took her experiences and used them as inspiration to create the Fostering Change Network, a nonprofit that creates avenues to a successful life while eliminating the stigma of being a foster care child. The organization is based in the Washington, D.C., area. When O’Neale was approached for this interview, she was eager to tell her story so that anyone who has gone through similar troubles will be encouraged. Check out our interview with Shalita below as she shares her journey from sufferer to survivor.
THE BEGINNING OF GOD’S CHARGE
O’Neale was thrust into a horrific situation that many do not survive, but her tenacity to be loved served a purpose and she was encouraged along the way by an unlikely person.
How did you end up in foster care?
SO: My mother was murdered when I was two years old and my father was never part of my life; he drank himself to death when I was 16, but I didn’t find out until I was 19.
What was your experience in foster care?
SO: My experience in foster care was extremely lonely. I tried very hard to fit in and to avoid being a burden, even with my own family. I was put in a Kinship Placement with my grandmother at age five, but due to her alcoholism and physical and verbal abuse I was placed with my uncle until I was 13. Unfortunately, he was also physically abusive. At 13, I gathered the courage to tell someone and officially went into foster care. I lived in two different foster homes before going to live in a group home and often felt I was being punished because I did not have parents. There were people along the way that encouraged me and spoke to my potential and I am forever grateful for them. It was this and my desire to prove everyone wrong that fueled my ambition to succeed.
What are some of words inspiration that kept you going?
SO: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi
CB: Who was your role model growing up?
SO: Aaliyah! I was so lonely through my different living situations, despite that I had much older siblings (17 years older). My brother and sister were dealing with their own set of trials, because of our mother’s murder. But Aaliyah was the big sister I never had with her mix of tomboy and “girly” style, love of music, and humility that I could relate to. When she died I grieved heavily, but she still inspired me to grow into that type of woman, a woman who was loved and admired for all that she gave to the world.
Shalita chased the light despite her strenuous beginnings and went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and her master’s degree in social work, with a concentration in community organizing and social action from the University of Maryland. Looking at Shalita, she did not seem like the hard-core detective type like Misty Knight from Luke Cage. We laughed about that. However her past did dictate what her future would become and in this case it was a good thing.
What was your “savior” moment? What made you create the Fostering Change Network?
SO: I’ve had several savior moments. Every time I wanted to give up, even end my life, there was something that removed the despair. Almost as if in the next moment, the feeling was forgotten and my will to live and to continue to move forward, replenished. I believe God has consistently used people, angels and spirit guides to intervene on my behalf. I started Fostering Change Network to show others from foster care that they are valuable contributions to this world and that they are capable of great things. I created FCN to highlight the accomplishments of alumni of foster care nationally and internationally and to provide the support they need to take their personal and professional endeavors to the next level.
Do you feel like God handed you this journey for a reason?
Shalita poses with her family. She admits that her family’s love is what keeps her motivated in spite of her past.
SO: Absolutely! I have come this far, learned so much and kept my “crown” in place during all attempts to remove it. I accept the power that I have been given and understand it is my calling to help others do the same. I’ve been married to an amazing human being for almost 10 years. He has always been very supportive of and patient with me. He was the first one to show me that you can disagree with someone without leaving them. You can love someone and not agree with everything they do or say. From my experience with my family and in foster care, I used to believe that it was normal to just leave people or force them out when you didn’t see eye to eye. My husband and I have grown together through our different journeys. He is an amazing father to our 6-year-old son, Amani. Amani has shown me what it feels like to have a heart on the outside of my body. I was afraid that I would not know how to be a good mother or wife because I have never seen it, but they have awakened those instincts in me. I may not have known what unconditional love looked like as a child, but I knew what it was supposed to feel like. I let my heart lead and I now have a family of my own to pour into, in the way I would have wanted to be poured into.
THE MARCH FORWARD
Although living a Christ-like experience we are only human and can still hold animosity towards those who have wronged us. When Shalita was asked about this, she took a breath, and with wisdom explained why it was important to forgive in order to grow into who you must become; and more importantly how it affects the future of those around you.
Do you forgive your parents? Both biological and your grandmother and uncle?
SO: Forgiveness was necessary for me to step into the person I am today. I will always be on the journey of “becoming,” but about a year ago, I was stuck and I didn’t know why. I realized that after so many years, I had not forgiven my father, mother, grandmother or uncle and so many others. I told myself I did, but the way I was living my life, making my decisions and attracting negative people and situations told me otherwise. Not only did I have to forgive them but I forgave myself, which was the hardest thing of all.
If there is never another like you, what is your hope for the future of foster care kids?
SO: I want foster children to grow up in a world where there is a universal understanding that they add value and are worthy. My hope for the future is that they see themselves and their greatness through people who have been in their shoes and lead by example. My hope is that they see the world full of opportunities that are available to them instead of a world full of people that mistreat and misunderstand them.
What is next for you. When it is time to remove your “crown”?
SO: I don’t think I will ever remove my crown; I strive to always be present with my power as a “Light Worker” in human form. Although some days its more challenging than others. In everything I do (foster care-related or otherwise) and with every person I meet, I hope even if only for a moment to help them adjust their own crown and to realize that it has always been resting there, gracefully, on their heads all along.
Do you have anything that you want the world to understand about people like you?
SO: It is time for adults who have experienced foster care at some point in their childhood to step forward. We are gifted. We are resilient. We have given so much to our communities and to the world. There are so many of us hiding in plain sight, waiting to bump into someone who can share in our experiences of foster care. We have wanted a safe space to heal and achieve with others that “get it.” Fostering Change Network is it. We are a network of alumni that have overcome the barriers associated with foster care and we are leading Fortune 500 companies. We are celebrities, legislators, community organizers, human service professionals. We are amazing parents to our children. We are not the stigma. To the alumni of foster care reading this I say: Welcome home.
The typical conference for women tends to fall into a familiar format. Lots of meetings are led by strong, expert women who give you a solid three points on a particular issue. Attendees studiously write down notes, trying to take in tidbits that will help them move forward in their roles back at home. For the most part, it’s a one-way interaction — the leader at the podium gives you the information, and you absorb it.
The Selah: Leadership Encounters for Women experiences are different. Sure, you’ll have the traditional panels and probably take a note or two. But the connection and mentorship don’t stop after the intimate workshops and expert panels are over. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, who is the 117th elected and consecrated bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, founded the event that is hosted this year in Atlanta, March 27-28, and Dallas, November 19-21. Bishop McKenzie aims to support Christian women leaders by creating an ongoing network of friends and colleagues who help and empower each other by opening doors, providing resources, and offering practical advice.
Urban Faith had a chance to talk to Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie about the Selah experience, how Christian women leaders can lift one another, and who inspires her.
How can women leaders best support each other?
Don’t kill each other off! Women in ministry have been so aware. There are more women in the ministry now than ever before. Some seminaries are 30%, 40%, 50%, 60% women. But when you go out in the field, you still might be the one — or one of two. So you have to be careful that you don’t use that platform to be the queen and, you know, there is only one queen. If you get it, you want to make sure there’s somebody else who is following you. I was elected and the next election cycle two women got in. And then the next election cycle, one woman got in. And we’re right at the door of another election cycle right now, and we hope to get another one. You want to be sure you are helpful to your sister. Sometimes when you’re in business or in congregations, you know the stuff, you know how it works, but you don’t share how it works. “Nobody told me. I had to learn myself. I know what to do. I know what to say. I know who to say it to. So you’re going to have to learn yourself, too.” No! Help a sista out. It’s always tricky. It’s called human relationships, human nature. I think it has limited ministry. We have an opportunity to develop a model of resourcing, of assisting and support that was not in place when we were coming along, which is why I do Selah.
What kind of experience can women expect when they attend Selah?
I want you to be exposed to people who are doing wonderful things, and I want you to be able to talk to them about their stories and how they got there. I want you to see where you can go. I want you to meet people who can open doors for you. I want us to talk honestly with each other about the problems that we have so we can figure out how we can solve some of those problems. I want to put you in front of people who are problem solvers, who you can connect to, who can help you. It’s trying to create a model that will help people get to the next level.
Given this new model of raising leaders, what do you see as the future of the black church?
We are moving into a new season in the 21st century. The way we do church has changed from the way when we started preaching 20-30 years ago. When we started preaching, you had big churches, and then you had megachurches. I think we’re getting to a place where success is not defined by size and real estate. Success is going to be defined by disciple-making and having the people inside impact the outside. Historically, our churches have always been the center of community in the neighborhood. We have anchored neighborhoods that were in trouble and kept people surviving. And I still think there is a role for that to play. But younger and newer generations are looking for other types of experiences. We have seen the growth in online churches and online experiences. So if you want to capture the new and younger generation, you’re going to have to have a dialog about Jesus where you’re having a dialogue about life—beginning that dialogue and discussion where they are talking to each other. We stop looking at technology as a toy and begin to use it as a tool of discipleship, a tool of coaching and mentoring, a tool for sharing the Gospel. Not just repeating scripture, but using it to be able to reach the hearts and minds of people who live online.
Your historic election in the year 2000 represents the first time in the over 200-year history of the AME Church that a woman obtained the level of Episcopal office. Which women who came before you do you admire or who have inspired you along the way?
I think that the first would be my family. The first women in my life who showed me that what I could do was not determined by my gender, but by my gifts were my mother, aunt, and grandmother because all of them were out of the box. They were managers back in the ’30s and ’40s. They were editors and publishers. They were chief editors, marketing directors, and entertainment directors. My family was a publishing family. They did all these things and my grandfather didn’t have any sons to follow him in the business. He had daughters. And so whatever your gift was, that’s what you did. I grew up in that atmosphere.
Cecelia Williams Bryant was the first woman in ministry that I ever heard, and when I heard her, that was the OMG to the third power. She has been a coach and a mentor. In the secular realm, it would be the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. I heard her speech before the Democratic National Convention, and I was like transfixed before the TV. She said what needed to be said, and I was like, wow, when I grow up, I want to be just like that. And then years later, when I stood up on the stage at the Democratic National Convention and gave remarks and a prayer, for me, it was full circle.