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Missioner for Black Ministries leads first Piney Woods Religious Symposium

By Lauren Wilkes Auttonberry
ENS 041906-1
[Episcopal News Service]  On April 6, the students of the Piney Woods School, near Jackson, Mississippi, participated in the inaugural Piney Woods Religious Symposium, led by the Rev. Canon Angela S. Ifill, missioner for Black Ministries for the Episcopal Church.

In cooperation with the administration and faculty of the school, Ifill and seven other Episcopal clergy and lay leaders, including the Rt. Rev. Theodore A. Daniels, former Bishop of the Virgin Islands, facilitated panel and small group discussions for students in grades 9-12.

According to Ifill, the focus of the program is to give the students an opportunity to interact with the clergy and lay leaders on the challenges facing young adults in the world, and to present ordained ministry and lay leadership as possible career paths for the next generation.

"The kids I had today were really interested in talking about interpersonal relationships," said Antoinette Daniels, director of Recruitment and Admissions for General Theological Seminary, New York.  "In fact, one young woman said, 'I want to know how to have a holy relationship with a man, and I'm not talking about sex.'"

This symposium is the first of what Ifill hopes to be an annual event at the Piney Woods School, and is also the model which will help take the program to the three historically black Episcopal colleges: St. Paul's, in Lawrenceville, Virginia; Voorhees, in Denmark, South Carolina, and St. Augustine's, in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

"My kids were interested in learning more about the Episcopal Church, about confession, about forgiveness," said the Rev. Andrea Hayden rector of St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Asbury Park, New Jersey.  "They wanted to know, when people keep on doing you wrong, how do you forgive them and keep going and not get stepped upon because you are Christian."

In addition to these philosophical and theological subjects, discussion on vocation and leadership were encouraged. 

"Career opportunities of various disciplines are presented to high school students as a norm but the one area that is not represented is the church," said Ifill. "An institution such as Piney Woods School provides an excellent opportunity for a Religious Symposium.  The students have conversations up close with clergy and lay professionals and can see the possibility of a future in the church for themselves."  

"It is important that children see role models that look like them," said the Rev. Terence Lee, who graduated from seminary in 2005.  "My experience in the church and even in seminary, and for so many people that come in - the face of the Episcopal church for many is a white face.  For these young students to see that the Episcopal Church also has black clergy is important."

The Symposium was punctuated on Thursday evening with a Hip Hop Mass, led by Duane Gibson and the Rev. Timothy Holder, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York.
The Piney Woods School, a 96-year-old, historically African-American boarding high school located just south of Florence, Mississippi, was founded by Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones. It is a nondenominational, Christian-oriented school that adheres to the Biblical notion that "if you train up a child in the way that he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it."  Piney Woods curriculum is fostered in a discipline-centered environment where all students are required to wear uniforms, regulation haircuts, and work 10 hours per week to help defray the cost of tuition.  On average, 95 percent of Piney Woods' graduates go on to
attend college. 

For more information on the Symposiums or other projects of the Office of Black Ministries, visit or call 800-334-7626.

For more information on the Piney Woods School, visit or call 601.845.2214.