The 46th Annual Meeting of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Inc. (BMCR) is taking place this week in Chicago, IL. BMCR is the Black caucus of the United Methodist Church and exists to challenge racism within the denomination and to raise up prophetic leaders who will advocate for the unique needs of black people who worship, serve and lead through the United Methodist Church.
As a lifelong United Methodist with deep roots in the Methodist Church, I counted it a privilege to be the opening preacher for last year’s annual meeting and to serve as an at-large member of its board. As I mentioned in my sermon last year, BMCR (and any organization with a legacy in the struggle for justice and equality) must wrestle with the nostalgia that tends to hold us hostage to history rather than be inspired by it toward the new journeys, destinations, alliances, methods and strategies God is calling us to. Part of the vision I had for this new RE:BIRTH Worship experience, Strange Fruit: The Seven Last Words of Jesus was to draw from this history and creatively reappropriate the lessons of that history for now.
Several years ago, a mentor and colleague shared with me a brochure from the 1971 BMCR Annual Meeting. In it was a flyer promoting a concert, sponsored by BMCR, featuring the High Priestess of Soul Nina Simone. It struck me that a musician whose catalog encompasses jazz, folk, european classical, blues and gospel musics, and whose content strived to express the depth of the human need for personal, spiritual, erotic and political freedom would be embraced by a body of Methodist Christians. Her music expresses the praise and lamentation that is woven into the lived human experience, embracing the sacredness of life in its fullness.
So, in the spirit of Nina Simone: Reimagined and Remixed, I reflected on what it could be if Nina Simone were to lead us in worship today and the new ways we could hear God’s call to justice by reclaiming and “remixing” such a prophet for this time.
Through preaching, poetry and song, we pray Nina Simone will join us in worship on March 29th as we hear the seven words of Jesus anew and listen for God’s call upon our lives. Because Nina was a singer, songwriter, AND activist, the offering we collect that night will go to support The Sentencing Project, an organization that advocates “for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration (www.sentencingproject.org). Nina Simone didn’t sing for singing’s sake. She sang to change the world for the better. Through Strange Fruit, we hope to contribute to that purpose as well.
I am excited for the friends who will lead us in worship that night in sermon, spoken word and song. We pray you will be able join us on March 29th at 7:00 pm at Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN. If you cannot, we hope you will still support us by giving online to help us meet our program costs and give toward the goals of The Sentencing Project.
To paraphrase, Nina Simone, “keep your soul intact” and I’ll see you on March 29th!