Reflections on the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference

By: Multiple Authors
February 11, 2011

Having the opportunity to attend the 2011 Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference was a transformative and liberating experience. Within created sacred space, we dialogued and engaged with highly informative, woefully skilled, and intellectually astute pastors, ministry workers, and lay persons whose Christian convictions were to uphold the banner of love, mercy, and justice. The issues of liberation and justice were central to the conference theme. Weight was given to imagine the ways in which this liberation and justice can be experienced in the lives of humans today whose bodily realities vehemently speak towards their need for justice, love, mercy, and liberation.

At the beginning of the conference we, along with over 100 seminarians, joined together in anticipation waiting to see how this conference would impact our lives. As the workshops, services of worship, and networking commenced, we not only observed, but saw that there was something really special, unique, progressive, compassionate, bold, and God driven about what we were experiencing at this conference. There was a sense of urgency amongst leaders, which seemed to be contagious. People were speaking, teaching, and preaching about issues that are so often silenced within the Black community and the “Black Church.” We engaged in dialogue around important topics and issues such as HIV and AIDS in the Black Community and our response to it, The Prison Pipeline and The New Jim Crow, Sexual Healing and the Black Church, Organizing Congregations to Do Justice, Homiletics: Preaching in the Present Age, and Intergenerational Dialogue.

What this conference reinforced was the importance of inclusivity in our vision and in our ministries. This vision must not simply glorify Jesus Christ, but should engage with the realities of Jesus as a human being who stood in solidarity with and showed compassion to those who were oppressed. We discovered that our vision for ministry must be a vision that acknowledges the systemic oppression within our communities connected to racism, classism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and genderism. People in our communities are being affected economically, socially, politically, and even spiritually in negative ways. Because of this reality it is imperative that as visionaries and spiritual leaders our visions, words, and actions must not overlook these problems. We must be one of the many mouthpieces speaking up for these issues and advocating for the people. We must also challenge our communities to be visionaries. In a workshop lecture Dr. Linda E. Thomas emphasized the importance of “giving our community not only what they want to hear but what challenges them in new ways.”

Our conference experiences helped us to understand even more that we are our brothers and sisters keepers. If our brother comes and tells us he has just gotten out of prison and needs help, we are to hold our brothers hand, tell him that he is loved and assist him with housing. If our sister comes and confides that she is living with HIV, we are not to stigmatize her, but love her. When a 3rd grade boy is labeled as being learning disabled with bad behavior, we are to not count him out as a prison case. We are to take him to the side, tell him that he is a child of God, smart, and that with God all things are possible. When a teenage girl or boy, woman or man comes and confides that they have been raped by a friend of the family we are not to simply be silent and tell the person to pray. We are to listen to this person, let them know they are heard, and find the resources that they need to assist them in their healing journey while also providing spiritual support.

This work that is grounded in justice and compassion cannot be limited to the people who look like us, dress like us, talk like us, or live within our zip codes. Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. reminded us that the work of justice must envision individuals in God’s watchtower who come from various hues of skin, and from various faith traditions. We are all members of God’s global village! This work is truly intergenerational without division, calling for all of God’s children to unify for the justice of all.

Rev. Dr. Marcus Cosby closed out the conference challenging us to leave this empowering mountaintop experience not as a glorious encounter where we pitch up our tents. Instead, he reminded us of the importance of our going out into the global village and yielding our service to others. We leave this conference truly inspired to do more. Now is the time for us as spiritual leaders to take a stand while also truly seeking to model the type of love, truth, humility, commitment to justice, and service that God has called us to. Samuel Dewitt Proctor understood what this really meant and through his words he challenges us to answer the call.

“Some pastors have given up on filling the shoes of Amos, Micah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah…God bless those pastors who stand tall and who, in love, tell the truth. They are the watchmen in the tower, the sentinels at the gate who can save us from total pollution.”

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