An Evening With the Elders promised to be “an engaging webinar,” and it didn’t disappoint.
The forum, moderated by Ashley Blakey, Eleventh Episcopal District Lay Organization Young Adult Representative, was the opening event at the 2020 West Coast Conference Lay Organization Annual Convention. This year, it was a virtual gathering held on the Zoom video teleconferencing platform.
On Friday, August 29, Presiding Elders Jimmy J. Thompson of the Lakeland District, Joyce J. Moore of the St. Petersburg District and James O. Williams of the Tampa District dissected and examined topics in line with the theme “Leading the Way to Greater: Adapting to Change in Uncertain Times.” Concerns focused on COVID-19 and civil injustice. Topics included the impact of returning to the physical sanctuary, young adult initiatives and protests and evangelical support for the president of the United States.
People are making sure their relationship with God is where it needs to be. That was the feeling expressed by Elder Williams when asked if he has seen an impact on spirituality. “There’s a renewed interest in Bible study. People are trying to make sure they are coming out better than they went in.”
“We have drawn closer to God,” said Elder Moore. “People are having personal encounters with God. As first, it was reading. Now, it’s real.”
Elder Thompson spoke of “authentic spirituality,” saying it will “find a way to function, even during a crisis.”
A discussion on young adults drew passionate conversation.
“God has taken what they are accustomed to using every day, and now, they are sharing (those things) with us. We must let go and adapt to their thinking, social media, their style of worship. They are going to bring us with them. We are learning from them. It’s not ‘are we going to bring them back to church,’ it’s more like ‘are we going to follow them,’ ” said Elder Moore.
Elder Thompson chimed in. “We won’t be able to NOT include other generations. They can’t be left out of this NEW CHURCH thing.”
“That’s easy. We can’t do it without them,” Elder Williams said to punctuate his statement on how to ensure initiatives for young adults continue. “We’re (senior saints) not that far removed from flip phones.”
The elders also embraced those protesting police brutality, advocated collecting funds to get protesters out of jail and championed opening up churches to give protesters a place to “strategize and mobilize.”
“This is an extension of the church,” said Elder Williams. “These are our children and grandchildren. They’ve taken what we have deposited into them. I see great hope. Don’t you see it? We must do what we need to do. The young people have that covered.”
Said Elder Thompson: “Dr. (James H.) Cone says we were called to be activists. We must speak hope to despair. I applaud the young people who are marching. It keeps me excited. In the midst of turmoil, the best is yet to come. Keep on marching.”
Elder Moore expressed similar feelings, saying she wasn’t a “peaceful protester.” The role for protesters has changed. “ ‘We shall overcome’ is gone.” She said older people must share the wisdom we have in our churches. “Talk to young people about what took place 57 years ago (the 1963 March on Washington). Give them a place to assemble to strategize. We are behind you. We stand with you.”
Evangelical support for President Donald Trump was a hot-button topic.
Their attitudes and actions are “repercussion for our putting a Black man in the White House. They are mad, and they are swearing and declaring that it will never happen again. Don’t be discouraged. God has more for us. The best is still yet to come,” said Elder Williams.
“They hooked their wagon to the president. They cozy up to the powers to be. In bed with Trump. They will have to pay for it. They are not who they say they are. They are anti-abortion, but they don’t care about the living children. Caged children who are locked away from their families. None have talked about injustices against our children. I cannot see how a person of color could become members of those churches,” said Elder Thompson.
That last statement brought agreement from Elder Moore. “They got onboard the train thinking they were going to get something. I agree. I couldn’t see any African American who would connection themselves to such an institution.”
In closing, the elders lauded moderator Blakely, who handled questions and comments with poise and composure. “Ashley, your presence tonight as moderator makes me hopeful. The church of the cross and anvil is safe,” said Elder Thompson. “You’ve made this a wonderful night. You’ve made it ‘easy like Sunday morning,’ ” said Elder Williams. Elder Moore nodded in agreement.
Thus ended forum that lasted just over an hour.