CLC seeks to put faces on stories involving racism


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

Hardly any adult in Mississippi hasn’t read about the state of race relations in the state. But reading about it and hearing it first hand are different.


“When you have people talk about their experiences with racism it’s not just words,” said the Rev. Steve Casteel. “It has depth and a face.”


Leaders in the Mississippi Conference will rely on the sharing of those experiences to make the 2007 Clergy Leadership Conference effective. The theme for the event, scheduled for Feb. 5-7 at Alta Woods United Methodist Church, is “Stories Yet Untold: Hearing, History, and Healing.”

“We hope that all of us as clergy leaders connect with our own stories of having lived in Mississippi over a period of time and to be able to tell those stories to one another and hear those stories at a deeper level,” said Becky Youngblood. “We hope to look at ways God has moved in our lives to bring us into closer community as people of different races, and ways God is still calling us to move closer together across that barrier that we put up.”


Keynote speakers for the event include Dr. Alton Pollard III of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Dr. Timothy Tyson of Duke Divinity School and the Rev. Marilyn Thornton of the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville. Also on hand will be Gwendolyn Magee, award-winning Jackson quilt artist who explores history and culture in fabric and narrative.


“These leaders are superb,” said Youngblood, executive director of the Center for Ministry, which co-sponsors the event. “A number of us have experienced them as teachers in the classroom. They are engaging and often very challenging. They are capable of engaging participants in the dialogue.”


The day before the CLC begins, actor Mike Wiley will present his one-man play Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till at 2 p.m. at Tougaloo College’s Holmes Hall Auditorium. The play tells the story of the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi. The performance is free and is sponsored, in part, by the Mississippi Conference and the Center for Ministry.


Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries, said one of the goals of the CLC is to make discussing race more acceptable. “There is this discomfort when talk about racism arises,” he said. “Part of it is fear of backlash and part of it is fear of the unknown.


“Our hope is that pastors will be given the courage and tools to have these conversations with their congregations.”


Casteel also pointed out that the road to racial reconciliation has been long and that some people consider the journey over. “We no longer have the dramatic experiences of racism, but there is still a great deal of work to be done in this area.


“When we hear stories, it tells us the truth, and you can’t ignore truth.”


Pollard directs the black church studies program and is associate professor of religion and culture at Candler. A frequent visitor to southern Africa, he teaches and writes on African American religious practice and urban studies.


Tyson is visiting professor of American Christianity and southern culture at Duke Divinity School. He is the author of Blood Done Sign My Name. He grew up in a Methodist parsonage in North Carolina. He is the senior scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies and teaches history at Duke.


Thornton is lead editor for African American resources at the UM Publishing House and pastor of spiritual formation and worship arts at South End UMC in Nashville. A musician and composer, she is also a renowned story-teller and a frequent contributor to UM worship resources.


Registration includes lunch and dinner on Monday and lunch on Tuesday. The cost is $100. Full participation earns two continuing education units.


The Clergy Leadership Conference is one of the annual continuing education opportunities offered by the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Mississippi Conference and the Center for Ministry. It is supported by participant fees and a gift from the W.D. and Inez Myers Trust.


Cokesbury Bookstore will set up a mini-store on site during the CLC. For more information, contact the Center for Ministry office at 601-974-1488.