Webster’s Dictionary defines family as a group of people who are related to each other or are alike in some way. While all AME’s may not be blood related we all are alike in some way due to the teachings and leadership under Richard and Sarah Allen and of Christ Jesus. The primary theme that I took from General Conference was family or at least the results of what family can produce when it comes together. Let me be clear before I give you my full experiences and opinion of General Conference, “No family is perfect.” Again, let me be clear “No family is perfect.” We love as much as we may potentially hurt/argue with one another. When asked to write about my experiences as a youth delegate my first reaction was sure I’ve grown up in the church and this should be an easy report to do. When in reality I had mixed emotions the entire time I was writing about my experiences at General Conference. On one hand I was at a glorious 8-day event filled with worship services and meetings with like-minded people whose primary objective for over a week was to better the church in any way possible. On the other hand drama and personal agendas were also on full display. I say this to say that General Conference was quite fulfilling but eye opening as well. I feel comfortable making these statements because they do not come from a negative place. My experiences at General Conference motivated me to be involved more not less. General Conference forced me reexamine the institution of the AME Church in what it looks like and what our basic backbone consists of. Times are changing and to ignore those changing winds would be a grave mistake. I advise all of you to read in full the words of Bishop DeVeaux’s Episcopal Address as he graciously stepped down from serving the 2nd District. He provides in great detail what must be done to keep the church thriving for the future.
As being a part of the AME family more is asked of us given the historical lineage we came from. General Conference reemphasized talking points that we hear each Sunday from the various pastors and church folk that are among us. “The church is more than going to a service once or twice a week.” “The church is more than being proactive within the confines of the location of your home church.” “The church is also more than the clergy that are the faces of the places we worship.” Too often in a more secularized society we see those who are disinterested in the faith backgrounds that helped establish the mindsets and beings of the very same people we interact with in our schools, communities, and work environments. It was quite refreshing to interact with my fellow AME brethren. While all of our personal views may be different, all of us are called to serve. There are two incidents during General Conference that shaped the remarks that I made earlier. The first about the AME church being a family is actually derived from a personal experience that I had during General Conference. My mom and I went to the Richard Allen Memorial at Mother Bethel AME church. To see this site recognized as a historical landmark in the 1st capital city of the United States is simply remarkable. It not only tells the stories of black ancestry within the history of the American landscape it also demonstrates the power of God. To let this history go unnoticed or to fall by the wayside in a more secularized society is unacceptable. I personally refuse to let this happen within my own lifetime. The second experience I had was during the business sessions of the AME Church. Getting through these sessions is a testament of the strength of the Lay and delegations within the AME Church. While our motives might be different than that of the pastors, we are in conjunction with them trying to help the church grow. We are not a perfect family but this imperfect family has made it through 200 years and stated several times from the podium we want the church to live to see another 200 years at the 400th Quadrennial of the AME Church in Philadelphia in July 2316. While unfortunately none of us will be here to experience this, the work that is done now will shape the future. The future of the church lies with the youth. It was very encouraging to see the work of RAYAC and interact with the various youth delegates and alternates from all 20 districts. I am pleased to note the proper funding and support from the General Officers is being thrown into supporting the young adults as we transition from adolescence and serve as the next set of stewards, trustees, YPD leaders, and General Officers for General Conferences to come.
Finally, I would like to point out the work is not going to be easy. While this is simply understood while one of us is doing God’s work, it is important to also understand the reward is far greater than the frustrations that one might encounter. Being a delegate or alternate at General Conference is no serene feat. General Conference is grueling, hectic, and sporadic but if I were fortunate enough to serve in either way I would do it again without hesitation.
Adam Johnston, Youth Delegate to 2016 General Conference, 3rd VP of WNCCLO