On July 3-13, 2016, the descendants of Richard and Sarah Allen traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This Bicentennial Celebration provided the Church numerous reasons to celebrate. The Reverend Jarena Lee’s posthumous affirmation of her call to preach some two centuries after she was denied ordination because of her gender is one reason to celebrate. Climate resolutions, partnerships with other faith communities and institutions that are involved in climate solutions, and a public crusade that resulted in national press on our climate position are reasons to celebrate. The bronze statue of Bishop Richard Allen on the oldest piece of land continuously owned by African Americans in the United States and the Richard Allen Mural on the First District Plaza, which is the embodiment of the self-help that Richard Allen modeled, are other reasons to celebrate. Indeed, the 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference provided the Church numerous reasons to celebrate.
Nevertheless, this General Conference also provided the Church numerous reasons to be concerned. Cries of the people from Districts 14-20 of exclusion from full participation in the life of the connectional church is a reason to be concerned. Continued investment of millions of our dollars into white-owned facilities and businesses that do not hire our people or return the investment back into our communities is another reason to be concerned. No plan of action on how the AME Church will expand its witness into new mission fields or conversations on how we will sustain local churches that continue to experience sharp declines in membership are other reasons to be concerned. Devices that did not work, monitors that could not be seen, microphones that were not in proper locations, and other logistical issues that consumed time better spent on proposed bills, resolutions, or discussions about our future are other reason to be concerned.
In conclusion, I left the 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference proud to be a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I left the General Conference proud to be a member of the Church that was the first civil rights movement in the United States and that paved the road for future AMEs that would transform the world. I also left the General Conference, however, determined to do what I can do to see our Church improve and continue to live our mission to seek out and save the lost.
The Rev. James C. Simmons is the pastor of Baber AME Church, Rochester, NY. A native of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Simmons is a graduate of Howard University and Wesley Theological Seminary at American University, both of Washington, DC.