By Gail H.M. Brown, Ph.D.,
While many may have slept in Saturday morning, June 18, more than 1,000 ecumenical leaders, congregation members and others gathered at 10 a.m. for the 8th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) Juneteenth celebration.
Held in Hall B of the Jackson Convention Center followed by a luncheon, the event attracted 1,080 attendees. “We were well pleased,” a committee member shared. The theme was titled, “Free Indeed.”
Saturday’s celebration was the vision of The Right Reverend Stafford Joe Nathan Wicker, bishop of the 8th Episcopal District since last July 2021. According to his biography, Wicker is an advocate for social justice, economic empowerment and professional development. His wife, Rev. Dr. Constance Belin Wicker, serves as Episcopal supervisor.
The celebration was unique in that a baptist preacher, Dr. Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., was asked to serve as the guest preacher of an AMEC event. Young is pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss. As Wicker introduced Young, he said they first met a few months ago via Zoom. “In that conversation, as bishop of the 8th Episcopal District, and in his position, we agreed that we’d connect to develop a strong credit union, and second, to have a voter participation education and a voter registration effort in the life of the church that would help us all,” he said.
He later met Young in person, and “found him to be one of the kindest, warmest gentlemen” he ever came in contact with. “In that meeting, we locked arms,” Wicker said. He shared that back in 1980, as a young college student at Wilberforce University, he witnessed a similar meeting between the then president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, and the then 8th Episcopal District bishop. They, too, locked arms, he said.[Today], “I find myself the bishop of the 8th Episcopal District, and Dr. Young’s presidency is in the same city. I see it as no better choice than to have Rev. Dr. Jerry Young to be our preacher for this hour,” said Wicker.
A sermonic selection was sung by Sis. Lannie Spann McBride, executive director of Music for the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi. “Lannie Spann McBride is one of God’s great Women of God,” Wicker said. McBride sang the popular gospel tune, “The Blood.” Attendees sprang to their feet in praise as she sang.
“I am delighted to have friends in the AME church,” said Young. He acknowledged Bishop Wicker’s “legendary work” in Jackson.
His message was based on the biblical story in the Book of John, Chapter 5, about the man on a porch at the Pool of Bethesda, known as the healing pool. He said people cannot become comfortable staying on the porch falling victim to the pains of their past.
The Mississippi Delta native reflected on his plantation life in a three-room, shotgun house. They often gathered on the porch to talk and socialize. “But I can still hear my mother today telling us: it’s time to get off the porch and go back to work,” Young said.
He said the man at the pool began to make excuses to Jesus that he had no one to help him in the pool, not realizing he was talking to the man who made the water.
Digressing, Young said he takes issue with African-Americans who make excuses for not voting, saying their votes does not count. “If the vote does not count, then why a certain man did not want to leave the White House?” Young asked, sparking applause and some laughter.
“We’ve all had bad experiences,” he said. Growing up on a plantation, he said he knows racism first-hand.
“You can’t get comfortable on the porch; Jesus said, ‘Rise up!” Young stressed. “God is able!”
A number of individuals, including children, gave their lives to Christ or rededicated their lives to Christ following the sermon and during the invitation to Christian discipleship.