By Rev. Jarrett Washington, Columnist
From July 10-13, 2017, the Seventh Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, under the leadership of Bishop Sam Green, Sr. and Mrs. Phyllis N. Green, Episcopal Supervisor, gathered at the Florence Civic Center in Florence, South Carolina, for the Annual Christian Education Congress and Theological Institute. Over 4,000 young people and thousands of clergy and lay leaders from across our Zion came with a spirit of expectation to participate in this year’s congress, “Finding the God of the Galaxy: Out of This World.”
Bishop Sam (as he is affectionately called) had a vision for the Annual Christian Education Congress and Theological Institute to be a homecoming of sorts. In the past, the participation of the youth component of the church had dwindled at the leadership congress; therefore, Bishop Sam saw a need to bring the youth back and “wow” them with the love and fellowship of Christ. No stone was left unturned by our Congress Convener, the Rev. Samuel Green, Jr.; our Episcopal District Director of Ministries, the Rev. James Wesley Dennis, III; along with a cadre of young adult leaders. The goal of the Congress was to minister to the total young person and seasoned member, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The morning of July 10 began with various component meetings, including the Women’s Missionary Society. Well over 500 missionaries gathered in the Florence Civic Center ballroom to discuss and implement mission projects and programs under the leadership of our beloved Episcopal Supervisor, Mrs. Phyllis N. Green and our Episcopal President, Sister Sandra Anderson. Both clergy and laity assembled in the main arena to participate in Sexual Harassment Training led by Connectional Judicial Council member and pastor, the Rev. Eduardo Curry, Esq. and his wife, Judge Tamera Curry.
In the evening of July 10, the entire Congress filled the main arena to capacity to participate and witness the opening worship service, appropriately entitled “The Blackout.” This unique worship experience featured the Congress choir and praise team with the dynamic and moving preaching of the Rev. Brian Cash. Souls were set free and the people of God were empowered to experience the God of the galaxy. At the conclusion of worship, the young people and the young at heart traveled a few miles to Wilson High School, the only black high school still operating in Florence County, for the Space Jam Basketball Tournament.
The morning of July 11 began with morning fitness and praise. All attendees were encouraged to wear their favorite church t-shirts and the people did not disappoint. It was an amazing sight to see so much of our church men, women, and children representing their particular church. Breakout sessions, workshops, and skill shops were presented on various themes by some of the Christian community’s best. Multiple sessions were offered to youth from kindergarten to 5th grade; youth from 6th to 12th grade known as Discoverers; young adults known as Sojourners; adult explorers; clergy; and component organizations. After the refreshing courses, Congress participants gathered in the main arena for the Midday Worship Experience preached by the Rev. Brian Swinton, pastor of Arnett AME Church in Georgetown, South Carolina.
The afternoon sessions of July 11 focused on a greater study of hymnology by Elder Jeremy Henry, specialized bible studies by the Rev. Henry Green, III and the Rev. Barbara Chisolm and social justice issues such as mass incarceration by the Rev. Stephen Green. There were a compelling discussion and panel in the main arena on church dropout featuring Dr. Rikesha Fry-Brown, a mental health counselor; Minister Kaiya Jennings, a youth and young adult pastor and social media phenom; the Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black, an intergenerational church pastor on the cutting edge of A/V implementation in his church; and yours truly, the Rev. Jarrett Washington, a pastor and voice for the young adult/millennial response. The K-5’s curriculum, based on the concept of “Respect,” was written and taught by members of the Seventh Episcopal District. Finally, the Rev. Sequoia Boone set the Congress on fire with a rousing sermon and invitation. Young people from across the arena were rapidly giving their entire lives to Christ and renewing the promise over their lives at the conclusion of her message. The Congress was blessed to reserve two movie theatres for over 200 K-5 students to view “Despicable Me 3.”
Leadership sessions, classes, and dialogues continued on the morning of July 12. The K-5 students experienced a galaxy simulation and learned about space travel, all of which was led by Science South of Florence. Various community impact projects were implemented in the city to include visits to the Pee Dee CAP Emergency Shelter, Naomi’s Project, and Lighthouse (a shelter). The Connectional YPD President, Chinelo Tyler, brought a powerful midday worship message that charged the atmosphere. As the young people departed the main arena they were surprised to witness a full-fledged carnival had taken over the parking lot. Jump castles, water slides, games, mazes, arcade trucks, and amazing treats, to name a few, had taken over the closed area of the parking lot. Despite the almost 100-degree weather, the young people had an enjoyable and unforgettable time.
The evening of July 12 was awe-inspiring. Wearing their white tee shirts and waving their glow sticks and glow items (and yes, even tablets and cell phones) the Congress witnessed the music ministry of international gospel sensation and South Carolina native, Minister Travis Greene. The concert was “lit.” Young people went from one high to another high and even cried out for more of God. The experience was a phenomenal blessing.
The final day, July 13, was a bittersweet moment for the entire Congress. On one hand, everyone was excited to return to their church homes/communities to share what God had done for the past few days. Yet, on the other hand, the mountaintop experience had to end. The Rev. Dominque Robinson compelled the young and the young at heart to remember this experience and to know that God has spoken something that no one can take away.
Bishop Sam and the leadership of the Annual Christian Education Congress and Theological Institute ought to be commended for the amazing planning and implementation of this event. It wasn’t an “AME-thing” but it was a “God event.” The power and anointing of God fell in the worship experience but also in the classes, panels, and skill shops. The Seventh Episcopal District is in great expectation for what God will do at the next Leadership Congress. Certainly, this event was mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, and life-changing.