Perspectives on the Eve of the 35th CLO Biennial Session
“African Methodism needs a vigorous healthy and well-informed laity. This will produce a productive and dynamic Church…The district and national gatherings of the laymen have been helpful and inspiring…the lay movement enhances the full program of the Church and helps to usher in a period of high expectancy.”
Council of Bishops, 1946 General Conference Special Session
The Lay movement began at the 1912 General Conference but was not officially chartered connectionally as an organization until the 1946 Special Session of the General Conference. The general body determined that the creation of a permanent organization of laity at all levels of the church was one of the key ways that African Methodism could not only steady itself but grow and prosper. At the General Conference of 1948, the Connectional Lay Organization (CLO) was formally chartered and the first Biennial was held in Chicago, Illinois, in 1949.
Seventy-one years and 35 Biennials later, the CLO finds itself at a crossroads. There is no doubt that the components of the CLO have historically benefited the Church at all levels. A few of the many achievements at the Connectional level include spearheading Connectional budget reform, implementing the civic engagement AME Voter ALERT Project, and pressing for the election of women to the Episcopacy. Lay organizations at various other levels have been involved in everything from economic development projects to funding scholarships for higher education. Yet, there is a perceptible distance in some our churches between the “organized laity” and the “rank-and-file” in AME pews. It is true that membership in the CLO is not for everyone; yet, could more be done to broaden its reach?
My first exposure to the Connectional AME Church was through the CLO. I have witnessed the good that the Organization can do when it motivates lay people to become actively engaged in the work of their local churches and beyond. Yet, it is troubling to see the existence of certain negative behaviors and habits. I was always encouraged by members of the lay to “just do the work” and look beyond these unconstructive traits. Those who really care about the betterment of the Church and the Lay Organization try to share positive experiences of the Organization but their observations often fall on deaf ears.
At the upcoming Biennial, the Lay Organization will elect a new slate of officers to guide the Organization for the next four years. In addition, there will be compelling plenaries and workshops that will discuss the state of the AME Church and the Lay Organization. Our strong witness of faith is needed more than ever before. We must go beyond our conventions and Lay Days and reconnect with our core mission to teach, train, and equip laity to serve the kingdom of God through the AME Church. In the past, the Council of Bishops encouraged the laity of the church to organize themselves for the greater good. Now, we who are members of the CLO must reflect on where we are and what we must do to help the AME Church continue its ministry and build upon its historic legacy.