"On the Side of History"
Educational Conferences sponsored by the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina
“African Americans in the Church”
Conference Promotes Inclusion
The following reflection was written by Warren Mersereau, President of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina
The second conference in the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina’s three-part “On the Side of History” series, "African Americans in the Church”, held on Saturday, February 28, was very successful. This success was due to the collective efforts of Bishop vonRosenberg, compelling speakers (Dr. Kendra Hamilton, Rev. Dr. Wilmot Merchant, The Venerable Callie Walpole and actors reading from “Truth in Cold Blood”, Dr. Michael Kogan), well organized Forum board members, gracious hosting by members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (North Myrtle Beach) under the guidance of Father Wilmot Merchant, uplifting music from the Voorhees College Concert/Gospel Choir, and a responsive audience representing many parishes in our diocese.
Each of the 130 persons attending the conference will, hopefully, share their memories with their parish’s members. The conference was video taped and the Forum will make available online the speakers’ presentations and musical selections.
Rather than summarizing the presentations, I would like to share some moments from the conference that moved me because they indicate how we are moving forward as a diocese.
Cooperation and Recognition – Driving up to St. Stephen’s on Saturday morning, eight Episcopal flags unfurled in the early morning breeze and greeted each arriving attendee. Grace Episcopal Church (Charleston) shared the flags with St. Stephen’s. And, in other ways, other parishes such as St. Catherine’s (Florence) and St. Anne’s (Conway) also shared their resources to make the conference successful. This was the first diocesan event hosted at St. Stephens. Its members were proud to be given this leadership role, and they more than met the challenges of meeting, greeting, and feeding the large number of visitors. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is alive and vibrant throughout the diocese! We only have to visit our “neighbors” to experience this. I’m sure St. Stephen’s will find many of us returning from time to time.
Compassion and Commitment – “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is often referenced as the African American National Anthem. It’s Dr. Kendra Hamilton’s favorite song. In a surprise greeting, as she got up to speak, the Voorhees College Concert/Gospel Choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Dr. Hamilton had tears in her eyes. And, I’m sure others in the audience did as well as everyone rose and stood out of respect until the song was finished. As a church, we know where we have been. It’s a history not always pretty as relates to defining roles within the Church for African Americans, women, and members of the LGBT community. But, we also know that we have evolved and worked conscientiously to reconcile our interpretations of scripture with the way we treat all our “neighbors.” Our faith is our compass on this progressive journey. The moment on Saturday when speaker, choir, and audience came compassionately together was an example of our efforts to be “On the Side of History.”
Camaraderie and Good Fellowship – Over the noon hour, the “lunch room” at St. Stephen’s was filled with people, delicious food, and the sounds of many conversations. The lunch buffet offered by the St. Stephen’s Parish Life Commission provided wonderful choices. As was the company we could keep as we found seats at the round tables throughout the parish life hall. The conference provided a reason to gather. The opportunity to renew friendships and make new friendships over lunch needed no single keynote speaker because everyone had the chance to speak to each other. It was fun! For as was the theme for last May’s conference when the Presiding Bishop joined us, we are: “Enthusiastically Episcopalian.”
Remembering History, Living the Present, Aiming for the Future – Father Merchant and Father James Yarsiah, Chaplain and Vicar at Voorhees College, greeted each other at the door to St. Stephen’s as “brothers”, friends, and leaders within our diocese. They were both born and raised in Liberia. They both immigrated to the United States. Now, they both serve The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Father Merchant and Father Yarsiah help define “African Americans in the Church.” Their journeys are compelling because they illustrate what is possible. They represent being “On the Side of History.” And, in bringing the Voorhees College Concert/Gospel Choir to the conference, Father Merchant and Father Yarsiah shared with us that the journeys of young people in our diocese are also compelling as they indicate what will be possible. As the speakers throughout the day reminded us, each in their own way, the complete story, the real story is what we do together living by the Second Great Commandment embracing inclusion through love.
Learning and Growing – So, on a cold, windy winter’s day, Episcopalians trekked to what was for most attendees a distant corner of the diocese to attend an educational conference. Why? Because that is what we do. We continue to learn from our own experiences and from our shared experiences. And, in our commitment to learning, we know that we will continue growing and, therefore, be better able to continue to serve Christ through The Episcopal Church
I’m sure everyone attending “African Americans in the Church” has his or her own special moments to share. It was that kind of day. A day in the life of our diocese.
Looking ahead a couple of weeks, I hope everyone is excited about and will actively promote and make every effort to attend the Forum’s third and final conference in the “On the Side of History” series: “LGBT in the Church.” Mark March 21st on your calendar! The planning committee at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (Charleston) is ready to host! The music will, again, be superb. And, the speakers will be informative, challenging, and inspiring. Let’s fill the church with our individual and collective enthusiasm!
Episcopal Forum of South Carolina
Next Conference: March 21, 2015
"LGBT Persons in the Church"
at St. Stephen's, Charleston
Click here for tickets and details
St. Stephen's, North Myrtle Beach hosted the "African Americans in the Church" conference February 28. See a photo album of the day's events.
Speakers and audience members visit at the conclusion of the "Women in the Church" conference January 24 in Okatie. See a photo album of the day's events.