The sanctuary of Turning Point UMC in Trenton was filled with about 100 people and the spirit of God in the African American tradition on February 29 just before having to close its doors to shut out the threat of the coronavirus. Greater New Jersey Black Methodists For Church Renewal (BMCR) gathered for their 53rd annual celebration and installation of new officers.
“We engaged in worship in a culturally familiar fashion,” said Pastor Rupert Hall, who added that the group’s focus as they move forward is two-fold—support young African American clergy and support all African American youth, particularly as it relates to the IGNITE conference this October.
Testimonies from the Federation of Men of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem Counties and a worship service led by Rev. John Randall, pastor of Mt. Zion Wesley and Kay Scott, Lay Delegate of the New Beginnings Church were enhanced by the sounds of the Mt. Zion Wesley choir. The Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” inspired the congregation to stand and join in.
Scriptures were read by Rev. Shelley Smith of Ferry Avenue UMC and Rev. Sandra J. Jenkins of The Church of the Good Shepherd.
A viewing of “A Change Is Gonna Come” and offerings were collected, while Evangelist Carolyn Drumgoole led a group of praise dancers from churches in the Southern Region of GNJ, including those from Camden, in a performance on how to humble oneself under the power of grace.
Rev. Shayla Johnson, coordinator of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of BMCR, centered her keynote address on doing work right now for the Kingdom of God.
Kay Dubuisson, pastor at United Methodist Church of Spring Valley in New York and chair of the GNJ Connectional Table, gave a prayer that lifted the tradition of praising and petitioning God.
Afterward, Rev. Johnson installed the new officers of GNJ BMCR: Rupert Hall as the coordinator, Jacklyn Love as the co-coordinator, John Randall as secretary and Charles Zeigler as treasurer.
The worship service closed with Rosa Williams, GNJ’s Lay Leader and chair of the Board of Laity, sending forth attendees with the benediction. “The mission of BMCR is to raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders who will be advocates for the unique needs of Black people in the United Methodist Church,” said Williams. “I encourage each of you to go out in love, to do the work that God has called each of us to do, be in relationship with your neighbor and to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!”
BMCR, the organized Black Caucus of The United Methodist Church, is one of the denomination’s five U.S.-based racial-ethnic caucuses. The BMCR caucus represents more than 2,400 black United Methodist congregations and approximately 500,000 African American members across the United States. Since its 1967 inception in Detroit, BMCR has consistently been the voice of Black United Methodists and served as an advocate for the growth and development of Black churches.
Following BMCR’s Event: Worship Reimagined
At Mt Zion, Senior Pastor Rev. Harden Hopper began preaching remotely on March 15 with the sermon, “In the Midst of All Things” where he explored the scripture from Romans 5:1-11. The video can be found at www.mtzionumc.org/sermon/midst-it-all.
Hopper said worship will continue this way until further notice.
At New Beginnings Church, where Kay Scott is lay delegate, Lead Pastor Joe Sorce along with his team stayed connected with their congregations by holding Facebook Live sessions for worship, prayer, communion, “healing teachings” and whenever they needed to share a message.
“God’s people don’t shrink away from difficult times,” said Pastor Joe. “Instead we react in faith believing that God uses our increased generosity to meet needs and shine a light of hope into the darkness people around us are experiencing.”
At Turning Point UMC, Pastor Hall led a remote worship on March 22 via Zoom as well as via dial in phone for those who didn’t have access to a computer and/or Wifi. One-hour prayer meetings are also being held.
Their Urban Grace soup kitchen is still open for breakfast but only through take out. Volunteers, including Hall fed about 200 people on March 14 and more than 100 on March 21. They are also continuing their grocery distribution on the third Saturday of every month. But now the bags are left outside the church.
Hall, who said he prefers to call it “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing,” added that he and his congregation are also calling the elderly and shut-ins more frequently in an effort to stay connected.