Written by Michael Joseph Brown, Ph.D.
Many mainline Protestant congregations across the country find their local congregations responding to significant population shifts, all of which impact the tenor of delivering ministry. The three Black Methodist traditions — African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal — provide no exception. Black Methodist congregations are, in fact, challenged to do local ministry and meet connectional fiduciary responsibilities. Population shifts and larger denominational demands offer but a few challenges to thriving ministry.
But what does it mean for congregations to “thrive”? They must know their communities. Population shifts obviously make this a tricky matter, but other shifts also muddy the waters as with the ebb and flow of various industries. In the midst of such vicissitude, congregations must not only serve as a resource but also as a broker of resourcefulness. Besides knowing their communities, congregations need to honor their heritage in various and important ways. Some feed the hungry particularly effectively; others provide shelter. Finally, congregations must breathe into their respective missions. Missional orientation invites congregations to understand their “why”, which is to live into God’s call for their lives and then to align their ministries accordingly. Payne proposed and was awarded a $1 million dollar grant for a project to “map the future of Black Methodism” in response to an invitation by the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations initiative. The project offers our effort to address what we see as a “gap” in contemporary conversations about Black Methodism. Outside of the studies conducted primarily on United Methodism, we Methodists that took an alternative route are rarely, if ever, addressed. We want to feel that deficiency at least when it comes to A.M.E.s, A.M.E.Z.s, and C.M.E.s. We believe that we can serve as a facilitator for important and far-reaching conversations that will allow us — with the help of the Holy Spirit — to take agency for our congregations and communities.