WNCC Justice and Reconciliation Team Celebrates Three African American Clergywomen

March 04, 2020

WNCC Justice and Reconciliation News

As we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, the Justice WNCC Justice and Reconciliation Team celebrates three African American Female Clergy who have impacted their communities in ministry and law enforcement.
By Rev. Ronnie Roseboro, African American Ministries Convener
Polly Pearson, Commission on the Status and Role of Women COSROW Convener

Rev. Angela Pleasants holding USSS seal 
Rev. Angela A. Pleasants, District Superintendent, Catawba District

I was in conversation with a young black man who was remembering the day his father had the “talk” with him. It is not the talk that one would think a father would have with his son. The conversation was different. It was, “Son, this is how you are to conduct yourself when stopped by a police officer.”
Yes, many of our young black men and some women receive this same talk from their parents and grandparents. In recent years it is more openly discussed, and some of our white brothers and sisters are surprised that we have this talk at all. Many never knew it occurred in most black homes.
In some ethnic communities, they feel the police serve white communities while policing the black communities. The concerns and lack of trust have been prevalent for many years, but in recent years have been brought to light through news media. How can we build trusting relationships with law enforcement and our ethnic communities? 
In 2002, The Rev. Angela A. Pleasants served Central United Methodist Church in Eastern Charlotte. This local congregation worked closely with the elementary school in the area. Most of the children lived in poverty and gang activity was increasing. After prayer and discernment, Rev. Pleasants began meeting with the Hickory Grove Division of Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department along with some of the church leaders. The focus was on the needs of the children in the community around the church. As a result of this collaboration, Charlotte East Coalition for Action was born. Rev. Pleasants founded and served as chairperson as the congregation became activists for protecting the children against gang activity. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department awarded Rev. Pleasants with a citizen of the year award but she says “much of the thanks go to Central United Methodist Church for working hard to ensure the safety of the neighborhood children.”
As she worked alongside law enforcement, Rev. Pleasants began to grow in her appreciation for their dedication to all the communities they serve. She became the citizen mouthpiece for their tireless commitment.
Later, she moved to Mount Holly, North Carolina, but continued to work alongside law enforcement. Rev. Pleasants states that “it was during this time we began seeing and hearing the tragic stories of individuals, particularly in black communities, being killed by police officers. As a result of the stories, we tended to have a negative view of all law enforcement. However, working alongside officers, I was reminded that the actions of a few should not influence our opinion of law enforcement as a whole. I am privileged to serve men and women who have compassion and hope for the communities they serve.”
Shortly after the Ferguson incident, Rev. Pleasants was asked by Chief Don Roper to co-write a chaplain policy for the Mount Holly Police Department and serve as their volunteer police chaplain. A year later, she joined the national professional organization, The International Conference of Police Chaplains, where she received training in Critical Incident Stress Management, Terrorism and its Psychological Effects, Trauma, and Suicide in Law Enforcement, and Crisis Chaplaincy.
Also, as a member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, she met Chaplain Mark Arbeen, head chaplain for the United States Secret Service. After receiving an endorsement from the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, she sent her application to Chaplain Arbeen. It is with great honor that she serves as a volunteer chaplain to our United States Secret Service. The United Methodist Endorsing Agency said there are only two United Methodist Pastors in the United States serving with this honor of which Rev. Pleasants is also the only black female.
Her volunteer ministry with law enforcement is incorporated with her work as a District Superintendent. She states that “it has served as a bridge-builder to our ethnic communities. Currently, in our district, we are working with Tru Pettigrew and Chief (ret) Anthony Godwin, from Cary, North Carolina. Tru Pettigrew said, “Do not let your only source of information about people that do not look like you, to only come from people that look like you.”
To build trust, we must learn to understand someone’s context and perspective. When we make up our mind about someone before knowing them, we seek to prove we are right. When we live by this, we build up images based on our “perceived” reality rather than the person’s actual reality. 
The only way we can know a person’s reality is to listen without bringing ones’ own bias and judgment into the conversation. Therefore, throughout the Catawba district, barbershop rap sessions are being formed with churches, local barbershops and the community. Barbershop rap sessions are meetings in local black barbershops with law enforcement where facilitated conversations are held to help resolve conflict, reconcile relationships, restore, and build trust. The first session was held Saturday, February 29, 2020.

Rev. Phyllis Knight Coates, Pastor, Pleasant Hill UMC/Piney Ridge UMC/Stout's Chapel UMC

Rev. Phyllis Knight Coates was the first black female hired by the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department. But, this designation was not a new one for Rev. Coates. She was also the first black female on the Pittsboro Police Department, Chapel Hill Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Carrboro Police Department. She continued breaking through glass ceilings as the first black female to serve as the president of the Guilford County Schools' parent-teacher association from 1994-95.

For 17 years, Rev. Coates served as Administrative Hearing Judge for the 18th Judicial District of the State of North Carolina before answering the call to full-time ministry.  In 1997, Rev. Coates became the first black female pastor at Zion Hill UMC (High Point) and rebuilt the church at Peace UMC (Summerfield). (Read more about Rev. Coates' move to ministry in the Greensboro News & Record.)


Rev. Dr. Arnetta Beverly, Pastor, St. Stephens UMC

In 2017, Rev. Dr. Arnetta Beverly came out of retirement to serve as the pastor of St. Stephen UMC (Lexington), her childhood church. In doing so, she became St. Stephen’s first female pastor. This history-making move was not Rev. Beverly’s first. By 2017, she was used to making history.
From 1976 to 1989, she was the first black female to serve on patrol in the field with the Davison County Sheriff’s Department. In 1987, she was the first black person elected to the Lexington City Council. Five years later, Rev. Beverly stepped down from city council to enter full-time ministry.
Since that time, she has served as the first black female pastor of St. Matthews UMC (Greensboro), St. John UMC & Chapel Hill UMC (Reidsville). She went on to become the first black female District Superintendent in the old Northeast District and then the first black female Conference staff person – serving as the Director of Nurture and Ethnic Ministries and Director of Connectional Ministries. In 2004, Rev. Dr. Beverly became the first black female to run for Bishop since Leotine T.C. Kelly was elected as the first black bishop in The United Methodist Church in 1984, as well as being the first black bishop in any mainline denomination. Bishop Kelly will be feature in the 2020 Year of the Woman exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 


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A Summons to Witness, Protest, and Promise

We give thanks for this Summons to Witness, Protest and Promise written by the cabinet of the North Carolina Conference.  In our ongoing collaboration, we affirm these words alongside them.  Across our state, we invite all United Methodists to be a part of building “the new world God promises as heaven in time descends to earth.” (Revelation 21)

A Summons to Witness, Protest, & Promise

We, United Methodists in The Western North Carolina Conference, join our voices with The North Carolina Conference in witness, protest and promise in these times of violence against our Black brothers and sisters.

We believe. . .

We believe that the Holy Spirit is indeed poured out upon all people.
We believe that in baptism, we are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation, and commissioned to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.
We believe that God’s intent for humanity is community, compassion, and holiness, and that justice has been marred by the history of enslavement and racism.
We believe that repentance is urgent for the historic and ongoing violence against Black girls and boys, men and women.
We believe that in the wounding of Black bodies we see Christ crucified.
We believe that those who have been steeped in white privilege, through repentance, can be transformed into humble servants of the living God.
We believe we are called to work for the day when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

We protest. . .
We protest violent murders of Black men and women, most recently Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
We protest the narratives of fear and suspicion that divide people from one another.
We protest our historic failure to ensure all our churches are places of hospitality, welcome, and belonging for our Black brothers and sisters.
We protest the historic and continuing suppression of voting and other basic rights.
We protest all incendiary public leadership in this time of crisis and turmoil.
We protest the lack of will in our communities, our state and our country to protect the lives of our Black brothers and sisters, and especially the most vulnerable, the young and the old.

We promise. . .
We promise to use our voices, resources and power to dismantle white privilege and racist systems, especially within our own United Methodist Church.
We promise to read the Scripture with ear and eye attentive to the continued call toward God’s will for all people.
We promise to exercise the right to vote and to work against voter suppression.
We promise to create around ourselves at all times hospitable space for all people.
We promise to name prejudice when we see it and to receive the correction of others who see prejudice in us.
We promise to be life-long learners, to constantly make adjustments in the way we use our power and influence, to be active participants in the building of the beloved community, and ultimately growing always in holiness toward the perfection we see in Christ.


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