Retired International Mission Board (IMB) executive David Cornelius remembers the early 1990s fellowship that led to the formation of the Black Church Leadership & Family Conference, formerly known as Black Church Week.
At that time, African American Southern Baptists did not readily attend the various week-long training programs offered by LifeWay Christian Resources, such as the Sunday School training event at Glorieta Conference Center that Cornelius and a handful of other blacks attended.
During an evening fellowship, Cornelius and then California Southern Baptist pastor Jay Wells, now a retired LifeWay executive, discussed the importance of attracting blacks to the numerous training sessions offered for Southern Baptists.
“So the idea of Black Church Week was to provide all of the training in one week, the training in every area as opposed to having the individual weeks,” Cornelius told Baptist Press at the 2015 Black Church conference, held July 20-24 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, N.C. “And of course the hope was that [blacks] would eventually start attending the Sunday School week, and the preachers’ week, and so forth, offered by the convention apart from Black Church Week.”
Today, the Black Church conference annually attracts as many as 1,200 African American Southern Baptists from across the country, offering training, education, preaching, inspiration, praise and worship, fellowship and recreation. Cornelius has not missed one week since its formation more than 20 years ago. He, with his wife Elwanda, were one of only three African American IMB missionary couples in a field of over 4,000 before they returned to the U.S., where Cornelius headed black church mobilization in the northeast region for IMB. He retired in 2010.
Photo by Diana Chandler
Denton Harris, at the podium, leads the Black Church Leadership & Family Conference 2015 choir in singing "War." John Ray Jr. directs as Roy Cotton II plays keyboard.
“My hope would be that the time would come when it is not needed as such; the time will come when people will take advantage of all of the various training opportunities without having to be separated out, and yet I realize that time is not here yet,” Cornelius told BP. “There are some culturally relative things that take place during Black Church Week that’s not done in the other training opportunities as well. And I think [these culturally relative things] as much as anything contributed to the growth and the longevity of Black Church Week.”
Certain things are done differently in black churches than in worship settings among predominantly other ethnicities, he said.
“Ushering in the African American church is quite different from ushering in the white church. I know that because I’ve been a member of a predominantly white church for the past 22 years,” said Cornelius, a trustee and deacon at Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. “So I know there are differences and that kind of training for example is not done to my knowledge in any specialized week that is offered by the Southern Baptist Convention, whereas in the black conventions, they do have special training opportunities for ushers and for choirs.
“But even during the choir week, I’m not sure how much training that is relevant to the way our black choirs operate is offered. And a lot of that is because it’s just not relevant to the Anglo experience,” he said. “Integration would be moved forward if we were more broad in our acceptance of various singing styles, worship styles and so forth, and that goes for whites and blacks.”
Registration at this year’s event totaled 818, including 62 children who were immersed in age-appropriate training and activities, and 116 teenagers who attended the concurrent Centrifuge camp, according to Mark Croston, LifeWay national director for Black Church Partnerships.
“What makes Black Church Leadership and Family Conference special is not just the great preaching, Bible exposition and training, it’s also the family environment,” Croston told Baptist Press. “I brought my children with me every year from the time they were in preschool. It is a week of training where there is a great experience waiting for people of all ages.”
“Stand” was the conference theme, taken from I Peter 5:8-12. Activities began with the July 20 opening worship service in Spilman Auditorium, followed by nearly 100 individual morning class sessions, morning corporate Bible study, gender-specific afternoon teaching sessions, evening praise and worship, and appreciation dinners for pastors, ministers, mission leaders, wives and women.
The “Whosoever Will” choir was recruited from the audience on opening night, and immediately began to sing praises under the direction of evening worship leader John Ray, Jr., minister of worship at Light of the World Christian Church in Indianapolis and worship auditorium coordinator Roy Cotton Sr., a church starter with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Volunteer ushers were also recruited in the same forum.
Evening worship preachers were Herbert Lusk II, pastor of Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia, who preached July 20; Frank I. Williams, treasurer of the National African American Fellowship and pastor of both the Bronx Baptist Church and Wake-Eden Baptist Church in New York, who preached July 21; Wayne Chaney, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Long Beach, Calif., July 22, and IMB President David Platt, July 23.
Other key speakers and teachers included, alphabetically, Diann Ash, minister of education at Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.; John Benton Jr., young adult pastor of First Baptist Church-West, Charlotte, N.C.; Myesha Chaney, wife of the pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Los Angeles; former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran; Victor Davis, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.; Jason Earls, youth pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland, Texas; Penny Ellis, executive director of Sisters on Mission, Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga., and Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, in Mansfield, Texas.
Also among key participants were D.A. Horton, national coordinator of Urban Mission Initiatives of the North American Mission Board; Jamale Johnson, pastor of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C.; James McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Morgan McCoy, a dramatist and teacher with Kingdom Pursuers Ministries in Richmond, Va.; Nik Ripken of Nik Ripken Ministries, and Morana St. Hilaire, immediate past minister of music at Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans.
In addition to LifeWay, event sponsors included the SBC Executive Committee, IMB, NAMB, Guidestone Financial Resources, Woman’s Missionary Union, NAAF, and the National Pro-Life Coalition. The next conference is set for July 11–15, 2016 at Ridgecrest.
Black Denominational Servants
The Black Denominational Servants Network (BDSN), a professional organization composed of African Americans employed by the Southern Baptist Convention, its entities and the Woman’s Missionary Union, elected 2015–2017 officers during its business meeting at Ridgecrest.
Officers are president Eugene McCormick, a team strategist for African American Church Development Ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention; vice president Port Wilburn, pastor of Rock Harbor Christian Fellowship in San Pablo, Calif.; secretary Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor of Baptist Press, and treasurer Ira Antoine, coordinator of bivocational ministry with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
For BDSN membership information, contact McCormick at [email protected].
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)