THE BLOG
06/04/2014 07:59 am ET Updated Aug 04, 2014

Why The Hampton Ministers' Conference Still Matters

This is my 3lst consecutive year in attendance at one of the greatest conferences in the world,the Hampton Ministers conference.

I started attending when I was a new seminarian. We couldn't afford to fly back then, so we car pooled, and along the way, would join other car pools on their way to "Hampton". It was, and still is, an amazing "experience"

It can be summed up with yesterday's lineup, and theme as we looked at the past and looked towards the future. Powerful.

We were in worship services from 8:30 in the morning, starting with Pastor E. Dewey Smith of Georgia, a combination of Holy Ghost power, intellect and charisma, followed by New York's Dr. James A, Forbes, a most requested lecturer, then Dr Cynthia James, of Dallas, Texas who dealt with power and justice, and luncheon preacher from Virginia.

Then l,500 women ministers, yes l,500, crowded into the Student center for the Women in Ministry hour, something I started and helped to build some 25 years ago, when it was still questioned by many as to whether women should have full participation in the conference.

Pastor Susie of Washington, DC was our guest preacher, and the place went wild for the Lord. We gave our Founders awards to women who had worked with me, all along the way, as we had to have our secret "underground railroad meetings" years ago.

The night before, I along with four other Past presidents, received gifts for our leadership in front of the entire body,. When they read my name, and reminded them I was the FIRST and only female President, and US Ambassador, the place erupted.The sisters AND the brothers stood up.

Then last night we came back to hear Bishop TD Jakes, as he preached. It had been ten years since h ehadbeen there. When he was last there, he had written the book, God's Leading Ladies and presented it to me on the night of my election as President

We wept then. We leap for joy now, as we are reminded,, "Weeping may endure for a night, but in the morning, JOY Comes." It's morning time at Hampton, and I'm so glad I endured the night. I am part of the 8,000 clergy strong FAMILY, and invite you to "come on down."

Ambassador Sujay was the 3rd Ambassador at Large for International religious freedom, the first Female President of the Hampton Ministers Conference, the lst female Chaplain of NYPD and the creator of the ProVoiceMovement for women.

Fifteen historic moments from the Hampton University Ministers' conference's long history.

  • c/o Hampton University
    The Hampton University Ministers’ Conference began in 1914 when the Negro Organizational Society, the Conference for Education Board in the South, the Southern Education Board, and the Cooperative Education Board sought to address the growing concerns of the African American church and its relationship to the community. Its first home was on the campus’ chapel with only forty ministers from four different denominations. Shown is Hampton University’s chapel, also known as Memorial Church, in 1914.
  • c/o Hampton University
    In 1928, the conference celebrated fourteen years of having more than 800 ministers attend, who represented nineteen different denominations and twenty-three different states.
  • c/o Hampton University
    In 1934, the Annual Choir Directors’ and Organists’ Guild joined the annual conference following the successful visit by the Westminster Choir School the previous year.
  • c/o Hampton University
    In its early years, the conference faced some opposition from various groups that questioned its significance and the need for another gathering of ministers. There were already several Baptist meetings and conferences being held in Virginia. However, the conference continued to grow and the number of attendees forced the conference to move from the campus’ chapel, to Ogden Hall, to now the Convocation Center with nearly 10,000 attendees. This group shot was taken in 1936. The nondenominational conference is one of the oldest continuous gatherings of black clergy. Today, the Ministers’ Conference takes place at Hampton University’s Convocation Center.
  • c/o Hampton University
    In 1959, Dr. James R. Moore, minister of Amity Baptist Church in Jamaica, New York was re-elected president of the conference.
  • c/o Hampton University
    During the Civil Rights Movement, the conference’s president, the Reverend Thomas W. Logan, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in organizational and fundraising efforts in Philadelphia to support civil rights strategies.
  • c/o Hampton University
    In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared words of hope and inspiration at the 48th Ministers’ Conference. This is the conference program in 1962 when he spoke.
  • c/o Hampton University
    Bishop Michael Battle, Sr. was inaugurated as the first black chaplain of the conference in 1976.
  • c/o Hampton University
    Dr. J. Jasper Freeman of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia was the first local pastor to speak in the history of the Ministers’ Conference.
  • c/o Hampton University
    Dr. Suzan Johnson-Cook (Dr. Sujay) was the first woman to be elected president of the Ministers’ Conference in 2002.
  • c/o Hampton University
    Bishop T.D. Jakes was a conference presenter in 2002, and he’ll again headline the conference for the 100th Anniversary in 2014. Here, he shakes hands with Hampton University’s President Dr. William R. Harvey.
  • c/o Greg Adams
    Coretta Scott King, popularly known as one of the first ladies of the Civil Rights Movement and wife to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the 89th Ministers’ Conference. "You have sent a clarion message that women do indeed have a leadership role to play in religious life.”
  • c/o Greg Adams
    It was a proud moment for the Ministers’ Conference to have then-senator Barack Obama share words that still carry strong in the conference’s legacy in 2007.
  • c/o Hampton University
    The Reverend Debra L. Haggins was named university chaplain and pastor of the historic Memorial Church at Hampton University in 2008, as well as the Ministers’ Conference’s Executive Director and Treasurer— the first female to hold this position in the history of the university and conference.
  • c/o Greg Adams
    Other notable figures that have participated in the conference include Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Dorothy Height, the Reverend Al Sharpton, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the Reverend Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, Carol Moseley Braun, Arne Duncan, and Kathleen Sebelius. Here ,Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie spoke at the 93rd Annual Ministers’ Conference.