The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference was held on February 19-22 in Chicago, Illinois, at the Palmer House Hilton. The theme for the Clergy and Leadership Conference was “Where Legacy Meets Future: Reimagine! Rethink! Reinvent!” 

The conference is named for the late Rev. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, who served as pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City and a professor at Rutgers University. Proctor was also the president of Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia and North Carolina A&T State University. 

The conference, created by Dr. Iva E. Carruthers, Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III and Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., is in its twenty-first year and continues its commitment to sound biblical knowledge and social advocacy.

Over four days, attendees were invited “to explore the intersection of the theoretical and the practical through transgenerational reflection, sharing and collaboration,” according to the organization’s website. The words of John Kinney, Distinguished Professor School of Theology at The Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, were cited in support of their aim: “At Proctor, we are envisioning an alternative world and investing in behaviors that resource us for [re]construction.”

The Chicago premiere of “gOD-Talk: A Black Millennials and Faith Conversation” at Malcolm X College kicked off the event. “gOD-Talk” is a project led by the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life in association with the Pew Research Center, and addresses the rise in the “spiritual but not religious” designation among this demographic.

The gathering featured morning meditation and self-care opportunities, special interest sessions and a book signing. Dozens of exhibitors and vendors offered networking and partnership opportunities. 

Nightly worship services included live dance and drumming, Spirit-infused singing and prophetic invitations from Dr. John Kinney and Rev. Courtney Clayton Jenkins. Kinney critiqued “tent-switching,” which is chosen over a communal gathering devoid of elitism in all its forms. Clayton Jenkins summoned the audience to participate in the spiritual disciplines of stillness and silence. 

The conference offered a seminarian track led by Dr. Walter Earl Fluker, Dr. Sharon Fluker and Dr. Clinton Fluker. The seminarian cohort met for a course intensive, which included required reading and reflection and a nightly debriefing. 

Other participants could choose from several workshops, including “CRT: Reclaiming Churches as Sites of Education” with Kenya Bradshaw and Brad Braxton, “Media and the Power of Narrative” with Mark Thompson and Stacy Dandridge, “Technology and Ubuntu: The Metaverse, Artificial Intelligence and Ethics” with Saeed Richardson, Fallon Wilson, Alicia Ross and Dominique King and “A Time for Jubilee: A Black Christian Response to the Colonization of Palestine” with Azmera Hammouri- Davis, Taurean J. Webb, Marah Sarji and Elom Tamaklo.

The plenary session, “Democracy At Stake: Labor, Wealth and the Power of Our Vote,” which featured the voices of Deborah Cosey Lane, Sabrina Dent, Fred Redmond and Damien Conners and was moderated by Adam Taylor, elicited passionate responses and determined commitments to the work ahead.

Joy-Ann Reid of MSNBC and Rena Everette Evers, the daughter of Medgar Evers, discussed her parents’ love story in a new book, “Medgar and Myrlie: Medgar Evers and the Love Story That Awakened America” during the General Secretary’s Luncheon. The “Beautiful Are Their Feet” event honored Rev. Dionne P. Boissiere, who said in a Facebook post that she was “overwhelmed” by the recognition.

Hundreds gathered for what felt at various times like a reunion and a revival. Rev. Jacqui Lewis, the senior minister at Middle Church in New York City, described it as “a tsunami of joy, love and fellowship” during the closing worship service that included communion.

“When legacy meets future, we can allow our shared sacred memory to lead us in creating a whole new corporeality,” the Conference planners said. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference concluded with hundreds of attendees hugging one another and perhaps, in that action, bringing that possibility closer.

 

 

 

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