Bishop speaks of healing, giving

McKenzie urges community to care about those in need

April 30, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

As she does in her sermons, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie wove a powerful tale yesterday during a speech at Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church in West Baltimore.

The former pastor of West Baltimore's Payne Memorial AME Church, who last summer was elected the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, read from the Gospel of Luke about a paralyzed man and other men who helped transport him to a house where Jesus was.

If communities are to heal, McKenzie said, people must act like those men.

"They acknowledged the brother by recognizing his broken condition," she said. "They were there. We need to be there for the brokenness in our community. We need to care. When your care and compassion is in place, you'll go far to help someone."

McKenzie was the keynote speaker for Associated Black Charities Sunday, an event culminating weeks of meetings and sermons at various churches to raise awareness of Associated Black Charities of Maryland, said Michael Easterling, the charity's communications director.

Associated Black Charities of Maryland is a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 by several Baltimore clergy members to foster coordinated leadership on issues of significance to African-Americans, said Donna Jones Stanley, the charity's executive director.

Since its founding, the organization has given grants totaling more than $6 million, including about $1 million to faith-based institutions, she said.

Yesterday, McKenzie stressed the importance of reaching out to others. In the parable from Luke, the men lowered the paralyzed man through the roof after realizing they couldn't get past the multitude at the front door.

"Sometimes it's the in-crowd that blocks people from getting in to Jesus," McKenzie said. "In order to work together, they had to make some personal sacrifices. They had to leave their comfort zone."

After being elected bishop last summer, McKenzie was assigned to southern Africa, where she supervises the church's 18th District, which includes Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland.

In those countries, most people earn about $700 in American money annually; middle-class people earn about $7,000; and school fees are about $20 a month, McKenzie said. Yet despite their limited means, parents find a way to send their children to school, she said.

"Don't you know how blessed you are?" McKenzie asked the congregation. "We're tremendously blessed."

McKenzie urged listeners to adopt a helping spirit.

"What we must do in the 21st century is dare to care," McKenzie said. "Your presence here ... says that you already care, but sometimes we care in different ways. We write a check because we don't want to volunteer, or we volunteer because we can't write a check. I challenge you to do something new ... to respond to the brokenness around you.

"If you already volunteer, then stretch to do something new in your service," she said. "If you already gave, then stretch and give at a new level."

Before McKenzie's speech, peppered with loud applause and "amens," the Woodlawn High School Honors Chorale sang. McKenzie was introduced by Dennis V. Proctor Sr., pastor of Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church.

"She's powerful linguistically ... stylistically ... syntactically ... and spiritually," Proctor said. "When you hear her preach, you are never left the same."

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