Disciples News Service

Celebrating history: National Convocation

by Timothy James and Communication Ministries staff

The National Convocation (NC) is a ministry of Disciples’ African-American constituency that has evolved in the Disciples by way of struggle and determination.

Leaders of the NC often say, “We go way back.”  Their Disciple spiritual ancestors were part of the early congregations on the frontier, at Cane Ridge and in the South.  Dating from the 1830s, the NC is built on the rich legacy of the first generation of former slaves.

From the very beginning, the Stone-Campbell movement was conflicted on race matters, slavery and the Civil War. Antecedents of Disciple congregations consisted of abolitionists, slaves and slave owners witnessing the division of families and friends across all of society.

After the war, Elder Preston Taylor, born a slave, became an influential businessman and preacher. He was called in the late 1800s by the American Christian Missionary Society to serve as “National Evangelist.” Black Churches asked the Christian Women’s Board of Mission (CWBM) to assume this work and in 1914, Rosa Brown was employed to minister among the women and P. H. Moss to serve the Bible schools. These persons were hired to serve primarily African-American congregations.

Evangelism to blacks was viewed as missionary work at that time, so when Black congregations and schools were established, it was usually with the oversight of whites, echoing society’s division of first- and second-class citizens and the segregation which persists.

In response Black Disciples persisted in the journey toward wholeness with faith and determination. In 1917, Preston Taylor sent out a call to organize and the National Christian Missionary Convention was formed approved as an auxiliary of the International Convention of Christian Churches (ICCC).

Through it all, church leaders never gave up on the idea of unity and wholeness. A major voice for unity and cooperation was Rev. R. H. Peoples. In 1943, he challenged the NCMC with a proposed merger of services and work of the NCMC, ICCC and the United Christian Missionary Society (UCMS), which continues to work as the Division of Overseas Ministries and Disciples Home Missions.

The merger was finalized in 1960 and called upon the ministries of the whole church to serve the whole church. The staff of the NCMC became staff of the UCMS focusing on evangelism, Christian education and the Christian Women’s Fellowship, precursor to Disciples Women.

In 1969, the “Principles of Merger” of the NCMC were adopted by the ICCC. This was the culmination of 26 years of prayer, visioning and strategy.

As a result of the adoption and implementation of these principles the National Convocation was called into being to nurture a realization of the merger vision. The NC, at one time an object of mission, now is a partner in mission.

Today, Associate General Minister and Administrative Secretary Timothy James serves all Disciples, as do Rev. Sheila Spencer (Christian education), Rev. Dr. R. Wayne Calhoun (evangelism), and Rev. Chesla Nickelson (Disciple Women).

At the 2016 session, attendees resolved to share a renewed emphasis on the singular history of the NC through the book, Journey to Wholeness, and support for Reconciliation Ministry. To obtain copies of the book, contact GWDmin@att.net or Chalice Press.