African American Mennonite Association
The African American Mennonite Association (AAMA) is an organization, within the Mennonite Church USA structure, whose membership is comprised of black and integrated congregations (80-100 percent black membership), associate congregations (less than 20 percent black membership), individuals committed to the goals of AAMA, and various groups within congregations, including youth groups and church agencies. Fifty-six black, integrated, and associate congregations were listed as members of AAMA in 2009.
Approximately 4,500 blacks hold membership or regularly worship in a black or integrated congregation. This number does not reflect blacks who participate in associate congregations. The growth rate of black and integrated congregations exceeded five percent per year during the the 1980s. Ninety-five percent of the black and integrated congregations are located in highly urbanized areas. In many locations most members of inner-city churches live in the suburbs.
AAMA was formed as a successor to the Black Caucus of the Mennonite Church (MC) in 1982 by virtue of the vote of delegates to the annual assembly of the Black Caucus. Known as the Afro-American Mennonite Association until the early 1990s, AAMA provides a base from which scattered black and integrated congregations support and encourage one another. It provides special expertise to the larger church in dealing with the problems and needs of black and integrated congregations and communities, and provides direct services to its members if such services cannot be obtained elsewhere.
The move to an association structure brought about the following changes: (1) voluntary membership in the association, rather than automatic membership (in the Black Caucus) by virtue of a congregation 's existence; (2) provision of membership for individuals who are not residing near a Mennonite church; (3) direct responsibility to the membership, rather than operating as a standing committee of the Mennonite Church General Board; (4) the virtual elimination of subsidies for the members to attend annual assemblies (formerly such subsidies reached $7,000), thus encouraging constituencies to support their own priorities; (5) change of priorities from contending for a "place" within the denomination and "fair " treatment to enabling congregations to grow, become self-sufficient, and develop new congregations; (6) establishment of formal working relationships with each of the program boards and conferences of the Mennonite Church, as well as involvement in joint goal setting and implementation of efforts, thus creating a cooperative work environment rather than the earlier adversarial relationships; (7) engagement in developing programs to fill gaps in the services provided by the program boards of conferences in order to meet congregational and individual needs, instead of being restricted to "fellowship activities."
The work of the AAMA, as well as the Black Caucus before it, was carried out by the Associate Secretary for Black Concerns of the General Board (MC). However, at the inception of the organization plans were approved by the Mennonite Church General Board and AAMA for providing a separate executive director for AAMA. After the formation of Mennonite Church USA, AAMA became a totally independent association that related to the Intercultural Relations Office of the denomination.
At the beginning AAMA assessed needs and developed goals and strategies for accomplishing the goals. In the late 1980s, the association is in the process of implementing the goals based on annual review of the needs and strategy. Current priorities include leadership development, self-sufficiency, church growth, and church planting. A primary concern centers upon becoming acquainted with one another as pastors and congregations, finding ways to support and encourage one another over long distances, as well as working closely together to achieve greater results in shorter periods of time. The AAMA Board of Directors is responsible for the relational goals.
In 2004 the organization operated with an five-member board of directors; the President was Bishop Leslie W. Francisco III. The membership of AAMA meets every two years to review and approve the work of the board of directors, give direction for the coming biennium, and provide fellowship and worship.
In producing resources to aid the congregations in the achievement of the goals and priorities, the AAMA assembly requested that first priority be given to developing leadership among black men and youth. Examples of resources which have been produced since AAMA 's inception include: (1) a job description and qualifications for pastors of black and integrated congregations—an ideal model from which to develop a realistic expectation; (2) a correspondence training course for pastors (for use by the entire denomination, not limited to minorities); (3) a resource manual to aid pastors in evangelizing and nurturing black men; (4) a resource manual to assist volunteer youth directors; (5) aids for organizing and conducting administrative responsibilities within the church; (6) retreats targeting either black women or black men in black and integrated congregations; (7) national conferences addressing the justice concern from the perspective of black Mennonites and targeting black evangelicals in other denominations; (8) demonstration projects in congregational economic development in Philadelphia and in the Bronx, N.Y. (9) United Action Newsletter, published quarterly, (later semiannually as the AAMA/Lark Newsletter) a communication linkage among the black and integrated congregations, which emphasizes the achievements of congregations and individuals and other positive news.
Black pastoral leadership steadily increased through the 1980s until over half of the black and integrated congregations were led by black pastors. Less than one-third of the congregations were pastored by blacks before the Black Caucus came into being. In 1986 the Virginia Mennonite Conference commissioned Leslie Francisco III (pastor of Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va.) to become the second black bishop in the history of the Mennonites in North America. James Lark, the first black bishop, and his wife were recognized as leaders before their time in developing new congregations and planning for long term developments.
Membership within black and integrated congregations includes a growing number of professionals with leadership abilities and skills brought from "secular " job training. However, this number remains fairly small in comparison to the resources available in the denominational sphere. A pastoral and lay leadership training program on the collegiate level was named after James Lark and is located in Philadelphia and Chicago.
The organization also continues to work for full acceptance of the cultural and religious traditions of its membership. AAMA operates with the belief that the unity Christ desired in his body, the church, incorporates diversity. The beauty within the body comes from the rainbow of colors and customs, which are free to mix and separate at will, while pursuing the same goals of service and evangelism.
Bechler, Leroy. The Black Mennonite Church in North America, 1886-1986. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 1986.
MC Yearbook (1988-89): 105.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 9-10. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Lovett, Joy. "African American Mennonite Association." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A3523.html.
APA style: Lovett, Joy. (1990). African American Mennonite Association. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A3523.html.