LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Churches to address social issues

LaReeca Rucker
The Clarion-Ledger

Three traditionally African-American Methodist denominations will unite Monday for a historic event.

For the first time in more than 45 years, congregations from the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches will convene in Columbia, S.C.

The denominations with combined memberships of more than 5 million will meet Monday through Wednesday to discuss many social issues, including the plight of many black males.

The event, called the Great Gathering, will be held in Columbia's Carolina Coliseum.

Not since the civil rights era have these denominations united to address issues affecting African Americans. Organizers say there had not been an issue central to the church that constituted a "great gathering" until now.

They say this event is designed to foster discussion about the troubling history of black males and seek solutions to key issues devastating their communities. Political, church and civic leaders and others will focus on the 12 to 25 age group.

"If we can find answers to what is happening with the black male in this country, these solutions will have a positive impact on black family life in this nation," said Bishop George W.C. Walker Sr., leader of the AME Zion Church headquartered in Charlotte, N.C..

Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry, who leads the Eighth Episcopal District of the AME church from its Jackson office, said about 20,000 people are expected to attend.

"All denominations will be very well represented," said Guidry, who chairs the AME Social Action Commission.

She was elected bishop in the AME church in 2004 and was appointed to the Eighth Episcopal District, which includes Louisiana and Mississippi, in 2008.

"We are on the bottom of unemployment,'' Guidry said of African Americans. "Health reform is important to us."

Lola Nixon - Cheltenham, Episcopal supervisor at the Jackson-based office of the Eighth Episcopal District of the AME church, said the meeting "could be a source of inspiration for all of us church folks getting together and relating."

"It could be strengthening," said Nixon-Cheltenham, who works in the missions department.

Bishop Thomas Brown Sr., who leads the Fourth Episcopal District CME church from its Jackson office, hopes to establish common concerns with fellow Methodists.

"Some will address family issues and the Haitian dilemma," he said. "... Christianity in the West is declining. We hope to talk about our declining membership and how to reach our people."

Activities include worship services, seminars, panel discussions and entertainment. Bishop William Graves, leader of the CME Church with headquarters in Memphis, said churches collectively have resources to address community problems.

"We can't look for the government or other agencies to do this for us," he said. "We can do it ourselves."


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