Jeffrey Wright, president and CEO of Urban Ministries Inc. in Chicago
Jeffrey Wright, president and CEO of Urban Ministries Inc. in Chicago

Rev. Jonathan Weaver will never forget how in the fall of 1992, Greater Mount Nebo AME’s inability to get a $50,000 loan motivated him and other pastors to challenge local banks as to why so many houses of faith were being denied loans for various building projects.

After pastors threatened to pull their tithes and offerings out of the largest banks in the area, they signed a “covenant” with several financial institutions and formed the Collective Banking Group that lead hundreds of church leaders improve their financial literacy, build relationships with banks and get needed funding to build large sanctuaries primarily in Prince George’s County.

More than 25 years later, a new generation of about 60 church leaders sat Saturday in a conference room of the Sanctuary in in Capitol Heights’ Kingdom Square Shopping Center, where speakers talked about how to start community development corporations, nonprofit groups and to build housing without any money of their own at a time when church budgets have dwindled and tithes and offerings aren’t what they once were.

“Every church has to have a new stream of income,” said Rev. Marcellus Buckner, president of the Collective Empowerment Group, which held the annual economic conference. “The baby boomers are dying off and the tithes and offering are not and we have to find a new way to finance our ministries.”

Jeffrey Wright, president and CEO of Urban Ministries Inc. in Chicago, compared the plight of many churches today to the Old Testament story of Joseph, who thrived even though he was in the palace of an oppressive leader.

“You are in a palace that you didn’t choose to be in and if you are in the palace, what are you there for?” Wright said. “God used Joseph to feed the people. It may not be about fixing the palace but [rather] helping people outside the palace. Too many of us operate like we are on a cruise ship where we can eat 24 hours a day and go shopping. Maybe should be on a battleship or on a mercy ship. It isn’t about you.”

As Wright spoke, the majority of the people in the room were women and young adults, save for Bishop-elect Anthony G. Maclin, a founding member of the organization and pastor of the Sanctuary.

In the early 1990s, Maclin and his flock, then Glendale Baptist Church, met in a sanctuary built out of an old car dealership, a familiar pattern among many of the large churches that moved into the county from the District. First Baptist Church of Glenarden once worshipped in an old Hechinger building, while From the Heart Church Ministries converted a school and eventually a Safeway.

And while Maclin went onto purchase an entire shopping center and Weaver would move his church from an Upper Marlboro warehouse to stand alone sanctuary, Maclin said it is time for the churches in the organization to do more than secure bank loans for building projects.

“The Collective Empowerment Group, after more than 20 years, is more than just banking,” Maclin said. “We are trying to make sure that our partner and people connected to us have the wonderful opportunity to have resources in the community.”

In addition to their annual conference, the group partners with area bankers, government officials and businesses in a variety of ways. and the organization comprises about 200 faith and business leaders.

According to their brochure, they host:

First Friday Pastors Breakfast Meetings – Addressing issues of concern to members, parishioners and the community, these meetings provide clergy members with information from expert practitioners for enlightenment, discussion and practical ideas for implementation of corrective actions.

Liaisons Program – Assist the pastor with dissemination, promotion and implementation of CEG-endorsed programs within the local church.

Anniversary Awards Celebration – A celebration of the organization’s yearly achievements and the contributions of those persons and organizations who have participated in a significant way in the economic empowerment of our community.

CEG Training Institute – The umbrella program for all educational workshops, seminars and forums that provide technical assistance, training and apprise participants of financial services available.

The organization also has the Reverend Jonathan L. Weaver Scholarship, a $1,500 prize available to high school seniors of the Collective Empowerment Group.

The crowd at Saturday’s conference came with many ideas and questions for the speakers that included Chicago pastor and rapper Julian “J.Kwest” DeShazier.

“Churches during the civil rights movement were less places of worship but were community centers where more important conversations could happen,” said DeShazier, who also has a large ministry in Chicago. “Part of my vision is not to do anything new, but to return to a place where churches are really at the center of communities.”

One of most interesting panels featured four young adult ministers who talked about what the church could do to its improve outreach to young people.

“As a millennial, it is important that we have conversations that will cross generations so that we could better understand each other [and] the best way to reach the new generation,” said Rev. Chania Dillard, youth minister at Greater Mount Nebo. “You have to understand where they are now.”

Rev. Tameka McFadden, young adult minister at Greater Mount Nebo in Bowie, agreed.

“I wanted to be here to understand more about the Collective Empowerment Group and also what the CDC are going to do in their respective communities as it relates to inter-generation [connections] and how is that going to look,” she said.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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