For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
This week I’m attending the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference, which is the 101st such conference — “the first year of the second century” — since it was created as “The Conference of Negro Ministers of Tidewater, VA” in 1914. Described as “the largest gathering of interdenominational African-American clergy in the world”, the week is filled with bold preaching, joyful singing, inspiring lectures and through-provoking workshops.
I first heard about the conference soon after moving to Virginia five years ago when there was some coverage of it in the newspaper. Then, at the UUMA Institute a couple of years ago, I met Randy Becker, a former minister of the Williamsburg UUs, who is now serving in Key West FL. He’d attended the conference while he’d been in Virginia, and he urged me to do likewise.
It’s certainly a new experience to walk into a place and for once in my life be in a racial minority! I’m also in a religious minority, given that many of the ministers and religious professionals in attendance are from Baptist churches. Having attended non-UU seminaries, though, I have long known how to hear what others are saying in their own theological terms and then, if I can’t simply accept their words as they are, either figure out how to translate them into my own terms or leave them be as words with no meaning for me. (As I heard Michael Piazza put it at this year’s UUMA Institute, when you eat fried chicken, you eat the meat and leave the bones, and you don’t get angry at the bones that you didn’t eat them.)
Today, tomorrow and Thursday, there are morning lectures and afternoon workshops. The morning lecturers are Dr. John W. Kinney, Dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union in Richmond, and Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, Director of the Styberg Preaching Institute at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, both bringing their outstanding preaching styles to the podium. In the afternoon, I’m attending the Church Development and Leadership Academy’s “Theological Think Tank”, a program newly added to the conference that this year is focusing on the “numerous and various forms of injustice taking place in neighborhoods and communities where churches exist. Yet, the church appears to be silent and, if vocal, it is from a reactive rather than a preventive perspective.” Within the broader context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, both lecturers and the workshop speakers have mentioned Friday’s events in McKinney TX.
I’ll cover more of the content of the conference in a subsequent article, but I’ll wrap up for now by saying something about why I’m attending the conference. In general, I’m responding to Randy Becker’s recommendation that I attend, to broaden my horizons beyond both Unitarian Universalism and white culture. More specifically, I hope to learn how a congregation like the Fellowship can be an ally to black churches in calling for racial justice.