Despite the reputation Las Vegas holds, warm temperatures drew the African Heritage Network to hold its annual meetings on the outskirts of the famous city Feb. 17-19. This year’s theme, “The Care Conference: Whole Family, Whole Ministry, Whole Church,” focused on the health of the pastor, family and church including both spiritual and physical aspects.
A record number of new members were inducted into the fellowship, each being introduced by a current member and then received into membership. The first evening, new members were welcomed with fellowship in the hospitality suite.
Director Jeff Harrold (Southern Michigan Conference) welcomed the group as well as offering a workshop on families with special needs and closing remarks. He also presided over a business session where the group discussed future plans and models. Harrold shared how the group had started as the African American Network with only a few participants, but had broadened its scope by renaming the group to the African Heritage Network to better reflect the fact that the group was comprised of pastors and leaders of African descent from the United States, the Caribbean and the African continent. Of note is the significant growth of the initial membership of less than 20 to today’s current membership of more than 100.
Tamekia Nash-Walls (Southern Michigan) led worship, as she assisted with at General Conference 2015, as well as shared a seminar on nutrition. Darrel Sims (Southern California) provided amazing keyboard accompaniment. Fred TenEyck (Acts 12:24), Deryl Davis-Bell (Pacific Northwest) and Marzette McGary (Southern California) shared devotions. Adina Cobham Headley (New South) taught on personal worship as self-care, and Michael Traylor (Ohio) shared how spiritual intelligence provides a model for healthy leadership. As usual, the Holy Spirit had prepared each speaker with a consistent presentation that complemented the others, providing a cohesive message with many voices.
Allen Powell (Acts 12:24) got the whole group moving as he taught an exercise segment, showing the seriousness of the commitment to the health of the group. Kenneth Martin’s (Wabash) very presence provided a role model for eating and exercise as he has recently made drastic lifestyle changes to improve his health. The combination of a focus on physical health with eating and exercise, and spiritual health with worship and spiritual disciplines reminded all that both prove important and necessary if we are to be faithful servants of the kingdom. To further encourage health, the group decided next year to award those who made significant changes in their health such as improving their body mass index or reducing cholesterol or medications.
Bishops Matthew Thomas and David Roller offered a time of conversation for the group to discuss their present concerns with the general church. Their presence gave a sounding board from the general church to the network and the network to the general church. Pacific Northwest Conference Superintendent Matt Whitehead also attended and said he believes all superintendents should attend the yearly conference.
The highlight of the event came at the awards ceremony and celebration where attendees dressed in white and honored those excelling over this year and their lives of ministry. Euline Jackson (Acts 12:24) received the Gene Alston Pioneering Award, presented to her by B. Elliott Renfroe (North Central).
Howard Olver, the Acts 12:24 Conference’s director of ministerial education and guidance, added, “Dr. Gene Alston was a significant leader in the Free Methodist Church in racial reconciliation, ministry with African-Americans and urban ministry during a time period when it was not accepted and understood as it is today. Euline Jackson’s life and ministry make her a worthy recipient for this award named in Dr. Alston’s honor and memory.”
In addition, Estelle Martin (Wabash) received the AHN Appreciation Award for her many years of dedicated service, Ron Ward (the River) received the AHN Community Service Award, and Michael and Amelia Cleveland Traylor (Ohio) received the AHN Outstanding Achievement Award for their legacy of global medical service.
As the group returned home to their ministries, Fred TenEyck said, “Our prayer is that what happened in Vegas not stay in Vegas but will bear fruit through our ministries throughout the world.”