Union of Black Episcopalians celebrates 40 years while reaching 'new horizons'

Juan Williams tells assembly to become 'agents of transformation'
July 8, 2008

Celebrating four decades of accomplishments and setting new goals for the future, the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) drew hundreds of participants for its 40th anniversary conference June 29 - July 3 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

"The UBE Conference has been an enormous success," said the Rev. Dr. Martini Shaw, conference dean and rector of historic St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "The celebratory worship experiences and engaging workshops have been both powerful and memorable. New relationships and networks have been developed while the strengthening of existing friendships occurred through our many opportunities for fellowship."

The four-day gathering opened at the Cathedral Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a festive Eucharist which featured stilt walkers, drummers and dancers. The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell of the Diocese of New Jersey was present along with the Rt. Rev. Allen Bartlett, retired bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and Bishop Nathan Baxter of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania who served as celebrant and preacher respectively. The service included a musical tribute to Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer led by Dr. Jay Fluellen, choir director and organist at St. Thomas and Dr. Carl MaultsBy, executive artistic director and founder of Rejoicensemble Songs written by Boyer, professor of music (emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and editor of "Lift Every Voice and Sing II," an African American hymnal, were featured and his sister, Edith Boyer Jones, was present on his behalf.

'Active hand of God'
Setting the tone for the conference was Juan Williams, an Emmy Award–winning senior correspondent at National Public Radio (NPR) who regularly appears on Fox News and PBS. In his keynote address, Williams, an Episcopalian, challenged the assembly to become "agents of transformation" and stated that the significance of 40 years encompasses, change in UBE, change in the nation where he noted history being made in the Democratic Party with Senator Barack Obama, its first black nominee, and Senator Hilary Clinton who would have made history as the party's first woman nominee, and change since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King.

"This is a time where we as members of UBE can stand and say here's where we are," he explained. "At this juncture, UBE needs to ask how it can be proactive to help make the church an active hand of God."

Williams cited the recent ordination of Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Diocese of Maryland and other black bishops and priests in the church, as examples of what makes this an "unprecedented time."

"It is not a time for looking back at slavery. Rather it is a time to look back at what we have with UBE," he said. "Instead of focusing on negatives, we should look at the power and strength we have to affect growth."

The Rev. C. David Williams, president of UBE, said Williams' message was "sterling."

"He captured the spirit of UBE which I hope will lead us to become more proactive with weighing in on the substantive issues of this church in the U.S., Africa and throughout the world," he said.

Honoring two 'legends'
More than 600 people were in attendance for "Tribute to Legends Envisioning Tomorrow," the July 2 gala banquet which honored the Rev. Canon Thomas W. S. Logan, 96, and the late Rev. Paul M. Washington.

According to official records, Logan, associate priest of St. Thomas, is the oldest African American priest in the Episcopal Church. He is rector emeritus of Calvary Church in Philadelphia, and served as president of the Conference of Church Workers Among Colored People (the predecessor to UBE) from 1951-1956.

Washington was rector emeritus of the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia and known to many as "high priest of the progressive movement." It was Washington who opened the doors to his church for the "irregular" ordination of 11 women into the Episcopal priesthood. They came to be known as the Philadelphia 11.

The banquet featured some of the favorite songs of the honorees, a dance presentation by Philadanco/D2 Company, and poetry by UBE youth.

"Myself along with my mother and the rest of the family thought it was wonderful," said Kemah Washington, who helped in the planning of this tribute to his father. "By having this tribute which honored two men who worked so hard for the community, it was as if we honored God."

One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of $1,000 honorariums in the name of the honorees to the Historic Christian Street YMCA and the Paul M. Washington Foundation. A matching gift from Dr. Nathaniel M. Robinson, the first African American to graduate from Marquette School of Medicine, increased the gifts to $2,000 each.

"The tribute started a new beginning for UBE," said Randall Jefferson, banquet coordinator. "It set a precedent for years to come in which our youth will be recognized and that the legacy of both Fr. Logan and Fr. Paul and their work in the community will continue. I thank everyone who had a part in making it happen."

Presentations, workshops and meeting
Conference participants also heard presentations by Linda Watt, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, and Antoinette (Toni) Daniels, center director for Partnerships, who reviewed the reorganization at the national office while the Rev. Jayne Oasin, program officer for Anti-Racism and Gender Equality, Advocacy Center, and Mariama K. Dauda, Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) program officer for Africa, shared updates on their respective work.

In addition, workshops were held on bible study, congregational development, leadership training, music, financial planning and story telling.

"It is my hope that those who attended the conference left with a renewed sense of commitment, encouragement and excitement for ministry," said Shaw.

The annual business closed the conference with the ratification of new board members and the passing of three resolutions which urge the General Convention to include the Venerable John E. Culmer of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, the Honorable Thurgood Marshall and the Rev. Pauli Murray, the first black female priest in the church, in the Calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

"I pray that people left feeling reaffirmed that there is a rich spiritual energy that is present and consistent within the African American Anglican community and that this experience served as a catalyst for continued service, ministry, witness and empowerment," added Shaw.