By Fred Koenig
The National Black Staff Forum (NBSF), a membership organization comprised of active and retired black staff from annual conference and general agencies of The United Methodist Church, held its annual meeting in St. Louis, Missouri March 26-27, 2014. This year’s agenda included the annual business meeting, a United Methodist staff panel discussion about networking, a plenary session titled “Black Staff and the Future of the UMC,” and a service project; all designed to support the group’s commitment to visibility, support and service.
“We strive for visibility among the small numbers of black employees within the United Methodist community, so that they know that they have a national support network that is committed to maintaining open lines of communication with them,” said Sally Vonner, president of NBSF and staff person of United Methodist Women.
“We support individuals by providing a platform to discuss their leadership contributions to the United Methodist Church and opportunities through their agency or conference resourcing that can strengthen black churches. We also serve as a centralized portal for information about employment and training opportunities, things occurring within the broader church context, and any other relevant information.”
Within the past year, Vonner says the group extended its commitment to service to include participation in a service project each year, as part of its annual meeting, as well as meet in a black church.
“We have always been focused on supporting communities-at-large, so last year we did our first service project with the Marcy-Newberry Association, Inc. in Chicago, where we spent time with children and made a financial contribution,” said Vonner. This year we extended those efforts by not only completing a service project with Epworth Children and Family Services, but again choosing to support a local black church by holding our meeting there.”
NSBF members support the financial part of these efforts through their individual giving, but they also provide “sweat equity,” ranging from mopping floors and doing general cleaning, cooking and participating in interactive activities.
“Royya James, our program committee chair, did a wonderful job of reaching out to local facilities within St. Louis, and finalizing the details of the service project,” said Vonner. “It really makes for a seamless effort, and we greatly appreciate that.”
Vonner added that the group needs more members and more support. Those who might be interested in joining NBSF can visit the website at: http://nbsf-umc.ning.com/ to apply for membership and register for a free newsletter.
“We only had about 12 people who were able to participate in the service project last year, and we would like to see those numbers increase in the future,” said Vonner. “There also is room for our membership numbers to increase. The connection with this group can be an invaluable resource and its existence is not something individuals should take lightly. Membership is the best support that you can provide.”