Black History Month and the Arkansas UMCRep. John Walker

Black History Month and the Arkansas UMC
Rep. John Walker

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Each February, Black History Month is celebrated throughout the United States as a way to remember the amazing contributions and achievements of black Americans and other people of African descent throughout history.

Throughout February, we are celebrating the groundbreaking achievements of black Americans in the Arkansas United Methodist Church.

John Winfield Walker: attorney, state representative, and a devoted United Methodist

This week, we are recognizing the achievements of former Arkansas State Representative John Winfield Walker (June 3, 1937 – Oct. 28, 2019).

Walker was born in Hope, Arkansas. In 1954, Walker had the distinction of being the first African American undergraduate student admitted to the University of Texas after the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. However, because of lingering racism following the Supreme Court decision, Walker was not allowed to attend the University of Texas. Instead, he returned to his home state and graduated from Arkansas AM&N — now the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff — in 1958 with a degree in Sociology. Walker had the unique privilege of hearing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at his graduation ceremony.

Walker would go on to receive a master’s degree from New York University in 1961 and a law degree from Yale University in 1964.

Walker returned to Arkansas in 1968 and set up a general practice of law in Little Rock with an emphasis on civil rights cases. That same year, he opened one of the first racially integrated law firms in the South, Walker and Chachkin.

Throughout his career as an attorney, Walker was involved in a majority of reported cases that involved racial discrimination in the state of Arkansas. One of his landmark cases was the Pulaski County school desegregation case. The federal lawsuit, which first came up in 1982, said that three school districts in Pulaski County were unconstitutionally segregated. Walker fought tirelessly on behalf of black students and parents in this case until his death in 2019.

Walker also had a nearly decade-long career as a state politician, elected as the representative for District 34 since 2011.

Walker’s focus was on education as a state representative and was known for his smart, detailed questioning of other members of the Arkansas legislature. Upon his death, many people commended his bipartisanship and ability to work with all people.

But above all, Walker was a man of faith and was a devoted member of his United Methodist Church, Wesley Chapel UMC in Little Rock, for more than 50 years. 

Wesley Chapel’s pastor, the Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow, had this to say about the life and legacy of Walker:

“Brother Walker would often tell me this: ‘Reverend, you don’t have to come from a big place to make a big impact.’ He would say that to me as a young pastor. I met him when I was 29. I believe his point to me at the tender age of 29 was simply to serve God. It’s not about the biggest steeple, but about participating in the work of Jesus Christ on each. The work found in Luke 4:18-19 that says, ‘…to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ This is the Life that brother Walker tried to live and he inspired others to join him in that quest.”

Thank you, John Walker, for your service to your city, your state, and your United Methodist Church.

We celebrate the contributions of black Americans every year in February, but the immeasurable improvements to our society that black Americans have gifted the world should be honored each and every day.

Episcopal and United Methodist churches take step toward full communion

Episcopal and United Methodist churches take step toward full communion

AUSTIN, TEXAS – The Episcopal Church – United Methodist Dialogue Committee has agreed to send a resolution for full communion to be considered by the Council of Bishops and for possible consideration by the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The members of the committee made the decision during their meeting April 29-30 at First United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas.

“We acknowledge that the decisions of the 2019 Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference have deepened divisions within The UMC and introduced sharp and as yet unanswered questions about the prospects for full communion between our churches,”  the members said in a statement released today. “And yet, we believe that what we are experiencing in the various crises of our denominational life is the birth pangs of something remarkable, something new. We believe that the forces of polarization, mistrust, and animosity in our society and in our ecclesial life will not have the last word.”

Below is the full statement from the Committee:

The members of the Episcopal Church – United Methodist Dialogue Committee met together April 29-30, 2019, at First United Methodist Church, Austin in Austin, Texas. Since its beginning in 2002, this dialogue committee has been seeking to discern God’s will regarding how our churches might embody a new kind of public witness to the unity of Christ’s body.

These talks have continued for more than 80 years through many national and ecclesial challenges. By confronting serious matters of theological distinction as well as historical challenges related to race, class and the hardening of denominational identities, the members of this dialogue committee in its various rounds have held out hope that the people called Methodists and the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement might embrace one another in the fellowship of communion, publicly acknowledging our mutual sharing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and formally recognizing one another’s members, ordained ministries, and sacraments.

In Austin, we decided through deep and honest conversation to continue on this path toward full communion by submitting a resolution to that effect to be considered by The United Methodist Council of Bishops and potentially forwarded to The United Methodist General Conference in May 2020. We do not make this decision naively and are fully cognizant of the hard realities our churches face. We feel the pain and inexpressible weight of discrimination that is the burden of LGBTQ Christians whose lives are so often objectified, debated, dismissed. We acknowledge that the decisions of the 2019 Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference have deepened divisions within The UMC and introduced sharp and as yet unanswered questions about the prospects for full communion between our churches. The road map to unity between our denominations looks different now than it did two years ago when we first introduced “A Gift to the World” to our churches.

And yet, we believe that what we are experiencing in the various crises of our denominational life is the birth pangs of something remarkable, something new.  We believe that the forces of polarization, mistrust, and animosity in our society and in our ecclesial life will not have the last word. There is a future with hope for unity in mission and ministry for the Body of Christ that has yet to be revealed. The work of this dialogue committee seeks to heal, in some small way, one division within the context of a whole world in need of healing and reconciliation. We desire as a dialogue committee to take the next faithful step in this journey, trusting in the God who alone holds the future and who may yet be calling us to something bigger and grander than we have imagined.

There are more decisions to come. The dialogue committee is not done discussing the possible futures for United Methodist-Episcopal unity. Yet in this moment we desire to stay on this road together, walking with one another in our joys and triumphs as well as our struggles and imperfections. We hope you will join us in this ongoing journey of discernment and hope.

United Methodist Committee Members:
Bishop Gregory Palmer, co-chair
Rev. Dr. James Howell
Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey
Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli
Rev. Dr. Robert Williams
Rev. Dr. Kyle Tau (staff)

Episcopal Church Committee Members:
Dr. Deirdre Good, co-chair
The Rt. Rev. David Rice
The Rev. Mariclair Partee Carlsen
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Ferguson
The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman
The Rev. Margaret Rose (staff)
Richard Mammana (Staff)

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Media Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
mmulenga@umc-cob.org
202-748-5172