Harmonious Discord: Reflections on the Global Development Assembly
By Mrs. Valerie Gary Bell, 2nd Episcopal District
As a member of the Global Development Commission of the General Board, I attended the session of the Global Development Council, meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. After the long trip, I arrived at Oliver Tambo Airport, where I was warmly greeted by Mr. Herbert Mngadi, the Director of Lay Activities for the Nineteenth Episcopal District. Although this was not my first visit to South Africa, or to the GDC, I began to sense that there was something distinctly different. There was a definite sense of determination and expectation of positive outcomes for this meeting. I have witnessed the growth and transition of the AJC, the African Jurisdictional Counsel, which was established to address unique and common interests, concerns, and challenges of issues impacting the development of ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on the continent of Africa. I was moved by the intentional interest of the AME Church to spend the time and resources to assess and address the needs of what would further the cause of African Methodism in Africa. To date, the GDC has expanded to the Sixteenth Episcopal District.
The assembly of the GDC is composed, per Discipline, of clergy, laity, and the leadership of the various component bodies. I am still in awe of the genuine excitement and pride shown by the members of Districts 14-20 in being a part of the AME Church. To that end, they seek full inclusion in every aspect of church life. Two specific areas, indigenous leadership and the development of the Lay Organization, were highlighted at this meeting.
I served as a participant in a workgroup tasked to review the direction of indigenous leadership moving forward. Two outcomes from the group were a decisive commitment to sufficiently clarify, recognize, and communicate the educational requirements of candidates seeking connectional and episcopal service. It was clear that use of the “Covenant,” although serving to elect indigenous leadership in the past, may not be the best path forward. Such a practice moves the church toward jurisdictional governance and is not the will of the people attending the meeting. Reporting was made on the progress of the development of the LOADI (Lay Organization African Development Initiative). The dates for future LOADI meetings were shared and ideally, the LOADI would meet at the conclusion of the GDC in 2019.
I was able to visit a District Conference held under the leadership of Presiding Elder Chief Dipholo convening in Soweto and also served as a presenter at Mt. Sinai AME Church’s Annual Lay Day in Pretoria. The presentation, “A Model of Effective Cooperative Leadership or Carry Your Own Corner” was shared. The Lay Day celebration included a spirited message, with each organization making a monetary gift to the Lay Organization in the joyous manner that can only be done in a worship service in Africa.
Our visit concluded with the closing session with a message entitled, “I Believe,” by the Rev. Roderick Belin. It also featured the melodious voices of the men and women from the R. R. Wright Seminary. Their renditions included songs in English and their own languages. Even when we did not understand the words, the sentiments of the songs were unmistakably clear.
We are one church in 39 countries, each with their own cultural traditions which bring texture and richness to our Zion. Our challenge is the practice of respect and full inclusion without diminishing our personhood, as we win souls for the kingdom. As we convene our first full session of the General Board for the 2016-2020 quadrennium, I pray that the Connectional Church will live up to this challenge.
Mrs. Valerie Gary Bell is president of the 2nd Episcopal District Lay Organization and a member of the General Board.