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 Bishop Louis Hunter

Nearly 4,000 people packed into an exhibition hall at the Charlotte Convention Center for a Wednesday morning worship service officially opening the AME Zion general conference.

As host church, Little Rock AME Zion provided a choir and a liturgical dance group.

The sermon was preached by Bishop Louis Hunter, presiding bishop of the Mid-Atlantic 1 Episcopal District. His message, taken from James 1:2-4, was titled “Benefitting from our trials.”

Hunter opened by saying that many of the problems that Christians encounter and blame on Satan are permitted by God to make them stronger.

“Life would not be worth very much,” he said, “if every irritant were removed.”

Too often, he said, believers seek to rush through the teaching moments in their lives because those moments are painful. He called this a lack of spiritual maturity.

“I contend that spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in our church today,” he said. “Too many churches are playpens for babies instead of being workshop for adults. Many members are not mature enough to eat the solid spiritual food they really need so that they can help others, so they have to be fed milk.”

Where there is spiritual immaturity, Hunter said, believers become selfish and myopic with no real vision.

“God is looking for mature men and women to lead our church, leaders both clergy and laity, working together for the common good of Zion,” he said. “…Our church needs more leaders who have experienced the transforming power of God in their lives, where they have been set free from doubt and fear and insecurities and overdependence on intellect and eloquence and any other hindrance that keeps them from a life- and leadership-transforming faith.”

When individuals are truly doing the work of God, he said, they should expect to encounter resistance.

“When you…get busy doing things for the Lord, you can look, you can expect trials to come. You can expect the devil to turn the heat up on those who are engaged…in doing what God has called them to do.”
***

Doing what he can to help out

At age 19, Jason Bishop doesn’t expect to encounter many of his peers at the AME Zion general conference. But that’s O.K. As the son of a retired bishop, he understands the importance of duty.

Bishop, who is taking summer classes at Central Piedmont Community College before enrolling full-time this fall, said he was just hanging out around the house when his father suggested he go downtown to help out at the convention center. And that’s where we found him, helping some older women place conference posters in corridors and near escalators.

“I’ve been coming to these things since I was crawling,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen some of the people here.”

Bishop says he plans to be drop in and out during the week as his schedule permits, but don’t expect to find him here late Friday.

“That’s when ‘Dark Knight Rises’ comes out,” he said, referring to the latest Batman movie. “I’m definitely going to see that.
***

Charlotte is nice, but…

This year isn’t the first time that Terneisa Calhoun has attend an AME Zion general conference, but she’s never gone as an alternate delegate, a position she holds this time around.

As an alternate, Calhoun said she gets to fill the seat of a delegate who, for whatever reason, can’t attend a session or has to step out.

“You get to be a part of the decisions that Zion makes,” she said. “You get to network with people from different conferences. We get to share ideas and, hopefully, lives will be changed – those who don’t know Christ will come to him.”

Calhoun, who attends Varick Memorial AME Zion Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., said she’s familiar with Charlotte. She became acquainted with the city when her son attended Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill, one of several schools funded by the AME Zion denomination.

So has she fallen in love with our fair city as so many other visitors do? Is she looking to move here and leave behind the rat race of the Big Apple?

Don’t count on it.

“I’m a city girls,” she said. “I’m a bonafide, certified city girl.”
***

Showing hospitality

As co-chair of the hospitality committee, Millie Ruscito has a lot on her plate.

For starters, she and other volunteers must ensure that conference-goers who arrive at the airport and train station get a free lift to their hotels on one of the 15 to 20 shuttle vans that have been put into service. And once the conference begins, there are countless other things punctuating her to-do list.

Ruscito is a member of Little Rock AME Zion Church in Charlotte, which is the official host church. When we caught up with her at the convention center just before lunch, she had already been at it since 8 a.m.

We asked Ruscito what characteristics are needed to be a good host at such an event.

“A lot of patience and ability to listen,” she said. “Then you have to be organized and plan ahead.”

Ruscito said Little Rock’s pastor, the Rev. Dwayne Walker, began working with volunteers about a year ago to plan for the conference.

When asked whether she would get to attend any events this week, she smiled.

“This is our convention,” she said. “Our main thing is making sure everybody else has a good time and enjoy themselves.”



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October 25, 2014
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