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Board of Bishops & IMLA Meetings 2024 (Part 1)


The Board of Bishops and International Ministers and Lay Association (IMLA) meetings held February 20-23, 2024, at the Kenneth Monroe Transformation Center in Rock Hill, South Carolina, was a cornucopia of movement.  It was not just a movement of physical activity but a movement of faith, a movement of family, a movement of activism.  For this writer, it was a new experience.  I had never attended a connectional function this size before.  An event of this magnitude has many moving pieces.  Presiding Elder Sharon Browning and the South Atlantic Episcopal District began preparation well before the event took place.

The Star of Zion staff pulled up for setup at the Transformation Center on the 19th. The logistics were under the watchful gaze of Rev. George McKain, our Director of Public Affairs & Social Concerns.  He was carefully directing the arrangement of equipment and tables to achieve a harmonious flow to the movement that he knew the next day would bring.

The movement did indeed begin the next day. The Presiding Elders' Council held a forum with the candidates for the Episcopacy, which began at 9:00 AM. There were three rounds of questions. In the first round, the moderator asked one question that every candidate would answer.  In the second round, each candidate had an envelope containing a number.  When that number was called, the candidate answered a unique question that only they would answer. The final round was the same as the first.  The candidates had two minutes to prepare their answers.  This allowed the candidates to speak directly to Zion.  It allowed Zion to see the candidates' hearts.  If you were not in attendance and are a voting member, I would encourage you to watch the replay on AMEZ TV. 

The time between sessions is full of chatter and laughter as friends who haven’t seen each other since the last connectional gathering make their way towards each other and catch up on the details of living life.  Some have not seen each other since before COVID-19 turned the world upside down. I spoke with Mary Ponds, the Western North Carolina Conference Lay President.  Mrs. Mary is a lifelong Zionite who has held a myriad of positions in the church, some of which include District Secretary of Supply, kitchen committee, and Sunday school Superintendent (this is not an all-inclusive list).  She has attended many of these meetings.  I asked her what was different, if anything, since COVID.  She said, “The usual suspects that were coming before COVID are still showing up and supporting the activities of the church.  Something that I don’t see now that I did before COVID is the number of people attending.   Some of the people who usually attend passed away during COVID-19. For others, their health is to the extent that they are no longer able to attend.”  She added, “But the usual suspects are still here.  It’s like a family reunion.  It’s a church reunion.  You tend to look for your people. The people that you communicate with either in person or here at these gatherings. If it says A.M.E. Zion and it is possible, I will be there.”   I had the pleasure of joining Ms. Mary and some of her usual suspects at lunch, thanks to an invitation from Mrs. Gloria Joyner-Johnson, the Office Assistant for The Star of Zion.  They were welcoming and willing to share their knowledge of the comings and goings with me. From that moment on, every time we passed each other, we smiled and waved or stopped and talked.  I felt like a member of the family, not just a guest at the family reunion.

The IMLA opening session began at 2:30 PM.  We were invited to worship and praise God by the Rock Hill District Choir.  When worship and praise entered the sanctuary, everything else exited.  We became one body giving honor to the One in whom we believe.  After a soul-stirring rendition of Order My Steps by Brother Joshua Campbell, the annual sermon was delivered by Reverend Sandra Sistare, Presiding Elder, Cheraw-Bennettsville District, Pee Dee Conference.  Rev. Sistare told us that her father told her that “God don’t call women.” But after he heard her initial sermon, he said, “Maybe He didn’t call no other women, but He show called you!” 

The sermon title was The Meeting at the Appointed Place (Matt. 28:11-20).   The sermon was delivered with passion and prowess. It was perfectly suited to remind us that we all have a purpose.  When purpose and person merge, the location becomes the place of cognitive arrival. Because now you know what you came here for.  Presiding Elder Sistare encouraged our hearts “to go where we have not been, to do what we have not done, with the power that we already have.  The word of God.”

The final service of the day opened with music from the Denominational Choir, directed by Dr. Lisa Moore, Director of Music Ministry for The A.M.E. Zion Church.  The intricate harmonies and vocal dynamics of the musical selections were not only beautiful but there was no doubt that this was not just entertainment; it was praise, with instruments and with dance.

The sermon was delivered by Bishop Michael A. Frencher Sr. The sermon topic was The Fight for Freedom (Ex. 5:1-2).   Bishop Frencher reminded us that freedom is not voluntarily given by the oppressor.  It must be fought for by the oppressed.  To fight for our freedom, we must take a courageous stand, recognize that a fight is a continuous struggle, and possess a committed spirit.  “We are the freedom church, but we won’t be truly free until we walk in the real freedom we have in Christ Jesus.”  Bishop Frencher is very skilled in leading the congregation to the moment of celebration.  All across the sanctuary, people came to their feet.  “Amen,” “Hallelujah,” and “Preach Bishop” were sprinkled as generously as hot sauce on fried chicken fresh out of the grease!  When he reached his close with the lyrics of “I’m on the Battlefield for My Lord,” the celebration reached its peak in a cacophony of praise.

Following this fiery sermon, Bishop Frencher passed the baton of power as the Board of Bishops elected its next president in the personage of Bishop George D. Crenshaw.   I was able to have a brief conversation with Bishop Crenshaw. When asked about the future of the Board with himself at the helm. “As the leader of the Board of Bishops, I try to be visionary and steady.  The A.M.E. Zion Church is a large cruise ship, not a jet ski, not a speedboat.  When it's a large cruise ship, it turns slowly.   We need visionary leadership, but we need a steady hand.  That's what I hope to offer on behalf of the board.” He explained further, “The president works as the leader of the church, but the president works in collaboration with the board. So, it's not the president and the board; the president simply represents the board as we all work together.”   I had to ask one more question since I had his ear for that moment. I wanted to know his ideas or visions for the Communications Department.  “Sometimes we continue to dream but must fulfill the vision that's right before us.  The vision right before us now is AMEZTV and the acquisition of the equipment that would allow us to service our denomination. I want to keep our focus on those two things going toward the General Conference.  Fully developing AMEZ TV and acquiring the equipment so that we can say to any department, no matter what convention you have, we're able to serve you. You don't have to go to Dove; you don't have to go anywhere.  We have everything you need to have the event that you dreamed of having.”

The stage was set for a night of high worship by the presider, Bishop Brian Thompson, as he reminded us that “we are still here.”  The denominational choir took it up a notch with a stirring rendition of I’ve Got a Testimony.  The hymn choir, not to be outdone, took us back to our roots with a “stomp-clap” version of Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah and How Much Shall be Added unto You. Our hearts were reminded of a time before electric instruments.  We could feel under our feet the stoniness of the road we trod.  They didn’t let us forget that on the other side is a long white robe, a starry crown, and a brand-new home that awaits us.

The song of preparation, A Mighty Fortress is our God, with our very own General Secretary of Christian Education, Rev. Patrick A Barrett II, as the featured soloist.  The Lord used him mightily.  He sang the house down. Bishop Dennis V. Proctor delivered the sermon.  He used 2 Timothy 4:6 as his text.  The subject was A Timely Departure.  Bishop Proctor reminded us that ministry is a privilege.  He let us know when to say when. “Nobody should have to tell you when your when has come.”  A leaf is pushed off the limb by a new leaf growing on the limb.  Bishop Proctor reminded us that seasons come to an end.  We should know where we are supposed to leave, and when we leave, where we are supposed to go.  Bishop Proctor admonished us not to be so busy looking at other people’s blessings that we miss what God is blessing us with.  We must let God use us with the gifts we have been blessed with and understand when our time is up.  A departure is timely when it is on God’s calendar.  Let the Spirit lead you and know when to say when.

And the morning and the evening were the first day.

Up NEXT: The IMLA Banquet and day two.

Board of Bishops, AMEZTV, Bishop George D. Crenshaw, Bishop Michael A Frencher Sr. Bishop Dennis V. Proctor, Bishop Brian Thompson, Star of Zion, Zion, Kenneth Monroe Transformation Center


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