“New Beginnings” isn’t just the theme for the Christian Education Leadership and Ministry Congress, which has drawn nearly 1,500 pastors, youths and lay leaders to Augusta this week.
“It describes where we’re at as a district,” said the Rev. Ella Mae Samuels, presiding elder of the Augusta-Athens district of the larger Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “We’re moving into a new era in the sense that we have new leadership and renewed vision.”
A former Augusta pastor now serves as the bishop of the Sixth Episcopal District, which includes 522 AME churches across Georgia.
Bishop Preston W. Williams II was pastor of Bethel AME, the church that’s hosting this week’s conference, from 1979-1981. This week’s ministry congress, held at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, allows him to speak directly to pastors across the state about his priorities for Georgia’s AME churches over the four years he’ll serve as bishop.
“My priority as bishop is Christian education,” Williams said. “In the black community, more particularly in my congregation, our children don’t have a learning experience, religiously. Every week it’s about one hour. That’s not near enough. It’s an ocean of information coming after our young people. We can’t fathom how they can survive without Christian education.”
Children as young as 3 participate in the conference, said Kabrina Bass, the Sixth District’s Christian education director.
“This event is an opportunity to expose Christian education to people who may not have ever experienced it before,” she said. “We take a holistic approach.”
That means that throughout the week, participants attend classes on psychological health and physical fitness, as well as spiritual development.
“There are as many programs for adults as kids,” Bass said. “Our children are learning things at the same time, not only about the Bible, but about how to conduct themselves in the world.”
As Samuels puts it, “We prepared for the little ones. They’re important to our future.”
After the death of Moses, God said to Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you,” Samuels said. “That’s what we’re realizing and seeing here with Bishop Williams. We’re just excited to see all of the things we’re going to see develop under his leadership.”