NBSF Holds Annual Meeting in St. Louis


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.”

BMCR Meeting Helps to Solidify the Group

In order to advance, we sometimes must revisit our initial foundations. Fortunately, for those whom the organization represents, Black Methodist for Church Renewal, Inc. (BMCR) did just that during its 47th Annual Meeting, March 28-29, 2014 at Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark.

BMCR, which represents more than 2,400 black United Methodist congregations and approximately 500,000 black members across the United States, asked attendees of this year’s meeting to complete one of two learning tracks: The Principles of Advocacy and Organizing and Leading an Effective Caucus.  
“In 2013, we developed a transition and restructuring plan that would ultimately help us to solidify sound business and organizational practices , and to return to the basis of what we were originally established to accomplish, which is advocacy,” said BMCR Chairman, Rev. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth. “BMCR is the oldest racial caucus within the United Methodist Church, and we needed a renewed understanding of our initial goals, supported by a more uniform, common language and a common base of knowledge that we could use to reach those goals.”
In addition to the two learning tracks, Bridgeforth designed the meeting to remind members of BMCR’s commitment to create “prophetic and spiritual leaders,” within the United Methodist church.
“We need to formulate and actualize our voice as advocates so that we can address the unique needs of blacks within the United Methodist Church,” said Bridgeforth. 
He adds though that the “new” voices of advocates must go further, addressing the common needs of all people of color. 
“There are commonalities that exist among all people of color, and our conversations must be focused on addressing the common issues of concern to all of us,” he said.   
In line with that approach, BMCR actually planned its conference dates to allow other racial caucuses of the United Methodist Church to meet consecutively, taking advantage of opportunities to address common concerns and issues. For the first time in history, members of all five caucuses were able to come together for two days of training, while still having the opportunity to meet with their individual caucuses for the final two days of the annual meeting timeframes. 
There currently are five racial caucuses within the United Methodist Church, including the Native American International Caucus, the National Federation of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders National Caucus, MARCHA, representing Hispanic/Latino United Methodist church members, and BMCR. While not all of the caucuses could meet in conjunction with BMCR, at least three did. 
“I think we saw movement towards our goal to actualize our voices, and people seem to be recommitting themselves to our primary goal of advocacy, working to ensure that we all remain full members with a full voice within the United Methodist Church. “
For more information about BMCR, please visit the website at: www.bmcrumc.org.