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Talbert institute to develop African-American leaders

United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert (right) and the Rev. Robert Edgar, former leader of the National Council of Churches, greet an Iraqi Muslim leader outside a mosque in Baghdad in 2003. The new Bishop Melvin George Talbert Leadership Institute is designed to develop young black leaders with a commitment to compassion and justice. A UMNS file photo by Robin Hoecker.

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*
August 25, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Talbert thanks well-wishers during a launch celebration in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS photo by Walter E. Jones.

The Gospel of Mark says Jesus chose 12 apostles to be with him during his short ministry on Earth.

The Bishop Melvin George Talbert Leadership Institute is starting out seeking up to 20 young African Americans to commit two to four years to become creative leaders in The United Methodist Church.

The numbers may not be large, but the hopes and dreams of expanding God's kingdom on Earth are as substantial as the legacy of the man who inspired the institute, officials said.

The goal is to "beholden leaders" like Talbert, whodare to bedifferent, said Bishop Alfred Johnson, the institute's dean.

"We will intentionally and purposefully seek to equip new leaders who are bold in witness, centered in compassion and exhibit good will for all people," he said.

Nurturing leaders

Black Methodists for Church Renewal announced last year the intention to form an institute named after Talbert. The institute, to be located at the Nashville headquarters of the Black Methodist group, was launched in July.

The goal of developing new leaders "speaks to justice and allows the church to live into the reign of God on Earth," said the Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow, chairperson of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.

Details of the program are being worked out, but the initial effort involves identifying and helping up to 20 young African Americans develop as leaders over the next four years. More young clergy and laity will be rotated into the cycle as others complete the program, which requires a minimum two-year commitment.

"It will not be a weekend event and we say we have done our work," Talbert said.

The institute plans to work collaboratively with church-related theological schools, historically black colleges and universities, churchwide agencies, annual conferences and other partners in leadership programs for high school youth and young adults.

Justice is key

Participants will learn the heritage of The United Methodist Church along with leadership and administrative skills designed to help young clergy and laity be compassionate and creative church officials.

Hundreds celebrated the launch of the institute in July.
A UMNS photo by Walter E. Jones.

"A good leader is one who is open to the call of God, is willing to take a stand, is ready to work in a team relationship to accomplish a goal, is just and fair in all relations and respects all people," Talbert said.

Too often people take administration lightly and narrow the focus to mean paper pushing, he said.

"To me that is the least part of good administration. It is the ability to relate to people, to listen and to use excellence in preparation for leading people in whatever process one has to accomplish."

He said it also involves being open, fair and not spending time doing what is not necessary to get something accomplished. "We do not have enough leaders who practice acumen in such a way."

A bishop's legacy

Nearly 200 people witnessed the institute's July 11 launch during a gala celebration commemorating Talbert's 75th birthday and the 49th anniversary of his ordination as a pastor in The United Methodist Church. Congratulatory letters from President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton were read.

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The retired bishop was born June 14, 1934, in Clinton, La. He graduated from Southern University with a bachelor of arts degree in secondary education. During his final year in college, he accepted a call to ministry and enrolled at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta. While serving in Jefferson City, Tenn., he helped plan demonstrations for civil rights in Atlanta. At one point, Talbert and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent three days and nights in the same jail cell.

Talbert has led The United Methodist Church as pastor, conference staff member, district superintendent, agency executive and bishop. He has led or been involved in ecumenical delegations to Africa, Armenia, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, North Korea, South Korea and Russia. In 2003, he was one of 13 leaders who went to Iraq, trying to avoid unilateral U.S. military action against that country.

Taking on a new challenge is part of a legacy of service for a leader who has helped The United Methodist Church and society address issues of social justice and civil rights, believing there is room at God's table for everyone.

"I must take a stand on issues when I am confronted with them," he said. "I don't go looking for them but somehow they seem to come for me."

Information for contributing to the Bishop Melvin George Talbert Leadership Institute is available at

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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