Big Tent honors, celebrates African Presbyterians in leadership

Sam Atiemo, the associate for African Emerging Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) for more than two years, led a celebration during a Big Tent 2015 workshop of the “the new thing that is happening. Africans are coming into leadership of the PC(USA).”

The July 31 workshop drew such a crowd – with many of those attending being church leaders born in Africa — that it had to be moved to a different space with greater capacity. Meet here some of the emerging denominational leaders Atiemo introduced:

YawBaahPix2Yaw Baah served as a commissioner from the Presbytery of Philadelphia to the 2014 General Assembly. Baah, from Ghana, told of his experiences on the assembly’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, including meeting ecumenical representatives from the Muslim and Jewish faiths, and of the assembly’s difficult discussions leading to a vote on allowing PC(USA) ministers to perform same-gender marriages.

Nana-Yaa Ghasi represented Newark Presbytery as a commissioner to the 2014 General Assembly, serving on the contentious Middle East Issues Committee. Ghasi said she came to the United States from Ghana about 20 years ago; has worked as a deacon and church treasurer; and applied to serve as a commissioner “to see what this General Assembly was all about . . . I learned a lot.” To other immigrants considering serving at the national level of the church, she warned: “It’s not going to be easy. It’s challenging at first.” But Ghasi encouraged Africans to accept opportunities to serve the wider church, as it “broadens your horizons . . . It will help you.”

JamesAcquaahPix2James Obese Acquaah, pastor of the Ghanaian Presbyterian Church of Chicago (which worships at Second Presbyterian in Chicago), blends a background in business with his call to the ministry. The Presbytery of Chicago ordained him in 2012; he said he has earned graduate degrees in business and currently is a consultant in Chicago with a European insurance company. Acquaah spoke of divisions within his congregation since it was founded about a dozen years ago – in part over PC(USA) policy decisions involving gays and lesbians – and the ways in which he’s led the congregation in new directions. “I had to start the church all over again, this time with a different message,” he said. “A message of peace, love, reconciliation and vision.”

DavidOforiJrPixDavid Ofori Jr. was elected as moderator of the Presbytery of New York City in 2012. While he had concerns about how much responsibility the position involved, Ofori said “yes” – and told the gathering that “you make a difference when you say yes to being a leader. You have to believe in yourself as you are called, your capacity to lead.” Some of his other suggestions for emerging leaders: Build relationships and trust, a team to help do the work. Take risks. Don’t rely only on yourself.

Lydia Tembo, who was born in Zambia, served as a young adult advisory delegate to the 219th General Assembly. “Who here has ever felt they didn’t belong?” she asked. Nearly everyone raised a hand. Tembo said her first instinct when asked to serve was to decline, “because that’s the easiLydiaTemboPixest thing to say.” She worried about finances and what she didn’t know – but ultimately said yes. “That opportunity gave me insight and gave me passion” for further work in ministry.

Atiemo ended his remarks with these words. “We are here by God’s grace ministering in mission with our children who are African American and teaching us to be American. And at the same time we are helping them to bring some African values into the African American experience here. It is very, very important.”