PHILADELPHIA — An African American CREDO conference hosted by the Board of Pensions in partnership with Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary drew 17 African American ministers to Roslyn Retreat Center in Richmond, Virginia, to cultivate wholeness — specifically, their spiritual, vocational, health, and financial well-being.
“This was an amazing opportunity to gather — to share common concerns and joys of ministry — with people whose stories are similar to my own,” said the Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, temporary supply pastor at Bellefonte Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, N.C.
The Board has long offered CREDO conferences to ministers based on their phase of ministry: recently ordained, mid-career and late career. Over time, it became apparent that some audiences were not participating at the same rate as others. To expand CREDO’s reach, the Board now offers one unique conference annually to a defined audience — this year, to African American clergy.
“As a denomination and an agency, we are being intentional about embracing diversity, respecting all people, and ensuring all parts of the Church are being served,” said the Rev. Dr. Byron Wade, CREDO conference leader and pastor of Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C.
Most of the ministers who participated in the gathering, October 22-28, lead predominantly African American congregations in urban or suburban settings in the South. Some serve in presbyteries that have only one or two other African American Presbyterian congregations; and a few are pastors at the only African American Presbyterian church in their presbytery.
“The experience can be very isolating,” Wade said.
African American CREDO was tailored to the audience wherever possible: Fifty percent of the faculty at this CREDO was African American. A health dimension workshop emphasized health issues African Americans experience at higher rates than whites — diabetes and high blood pressure, in particular — and examined steps participants can take to help prevent them. Participants also had the opportunity to walk, practice mindful eating, meditate, journal and more.
A crucial element of CREDO is providing a safe space for participants to examine, in small groups, matters that impact their lives and ministries. During these discussions, the common denominators of race and gender disparity led to heartfelt conversations about racism and gender bias.
“This conference showed us how much we needed to be together. We really appreciated having the opportunity to fellowship, celebrate, and lament with each other. It’s different being African American serving in a predominantly Caucasian denomination,” McAuley-Allen said.
The Rev. Albert W. Moses said his small group, comprised of two pastors, one presbytery executive, and one presbytery staff representative — all African Americans — spoke extensively about the struggles of leading an African American congregation with declining rolls, salary disparities, and the need for presbyteries to manage the merger of congregations in today’s changing Church. Moses is pastor at Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church, a 124-member African American congregation in Charlotte, N.C.
For Moses, concerns about finances were personal as well as vocational. “I came away from CREDO with a commitment to save more, simplify my life, and apply to engage in Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations.” Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations is a Board of Pensions program that provides financial education and grants of up to $10,000 to qualifying pastors, for personal debt reduction and retirement savings, so they may bring their best gifts to ministry.
McAuley-Allen’s biggest takeaway from this unique CREDO was more universal: She especially valued learning the holistic self-care practices that CREDO is known for. Before the conference McAuley-Allen was skeptical of self-care. “The word ‘self-care’ had a negative connotation for me, but as I had time to unpack and experience it, I found that the holistic concepts and practices I learned at CREDO are powerful.”
Moses echoed McAuley-Allen’s sentiments about the value of wholeness, lifting up the topic of Sabbath-keeping. “The idea is to step away from the rush and rigors of ministry for 24 hours — to take time to relax, reflect, and renew, and not feel guilty about it.” Now, on Mondays, he turns off his cellphone and takes time to enjoy God’s creation.
CREDO’s emphasis on reflection, listening for God’s call, and self-discovery are essential to restoring wholeness. Many conference participants find God reaffirms their call, and that was the case for McAuley-Allen. She left CREDO confident that she should be doing exactly what she is doing: parish ministry.
That reaffirmation gave her “a sense of clarity and peace of mind,” she said, renewing her for the journey ahead — and her life serving others.
by Board of Pensions, special to Presbyterian News Service