Through a sense of community, spirit and discussion, African American women in the United Church of Christ came together at the Franklinton Center at Bricks to renew their commitment to ministry. The 2012 African American Women In Ministry Conference, held Oct. 11-13, examined opportunities for women at various stages in their ministry -- beginning, middle, and retirement -- to serve the church in the global arena, advocacy work and non-profit work.
"On a larger scope, [the conference gave] African American women a space where we could come together and talk about where we are in ministry, the joys and challenges, and how we can continue to talk and share that in the future," said the Rev. Adora Iris Lee.
Lee, a co-planning committee chairwoman, said the attendance doubled from last year to 70 participants from about 35. "We had women from all over the country, and not just the East Coast conferences. We were joined by several Disciples of Christ women ministers, not to mention people from both national offices," she added. "Overall, as a planning committee co-chair, it was a great success because we brought so many people out."
The Rev. Yvonne Delk, a co-chairwoman of the event, posed the question of how this group of women can create a system of support and find ways for the church to use their talents in ministry. Delk said all the women who attended "are fully ready to serve church and community in all settings of the church. We need to open the denomination to more extravagant welcome, and [open it] in seminary to women who can offer gifts that can help us grow and become more prophetic."
One-third of the women who attended were in their first five years of ministry, and Lee thinks the conference provided an opportunity for that group to learn from women with more experience in ministry.
"Women are doing an amazing amount of work on behalf of the church and Christ, and I think it goes un-noted because we are not necessarily in the pulpit, but we are doing amazing work for the glory of God," Lee said.
"You need opportunities to be inspired, and this was an opportunity. This was an opportunity for women to share with each other and stay strong in the choice of ministry," said Lee. She has been an ordained minister for 14 years and a UCC member since 1980. Lee attends People’s Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C., and once worked for the UCC in Global Ministries (a partnership between the UCC and the Disciples of Christ) as a missionary in South Africa.
The conference is for African American women who are authorized ministers in the UCC (ordained, commissioned or licensed), seminary students, youth ministers and those in discernment for ministry. Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, N.C., a former slave plantation, is now a UCC conference center in the eastern half of the state with a focus on justice advocacy.
There were three featured preachers for the event: The Rev. Susan K. Smith, senior pastor at Advent UCC in Columbus, Ohio; The Rev. Delores Carpenter, pastor emeritus of Michigan Park Christian Church and professor of religious studies at Howard University; The Rev. Neichelle Guidry Jones, associate pastor to young adults at Trinity UCC in Chicago.
Delk said, "Each [preacher] had wonderful theological affirmations on how we move as women of God as we wrestle with racism, sexism and classism with a sense of hope." Delk has been in ministry for 50 years -- the last 40 with the UCC.