UM Pastor’s Fancy Footwork Grows Congregation’s Spirit and Practice of Generosity
Rev. James Amerson. Senior Pastor at historic St. Paul United Methodist Church in San Antonio, the first African American congregation established in Bexar County, in 1866. And . . . 2018 winner of a Dancing with the Stars competition! If that sounds like an unlikely trajectory, Rev. Amerson couldn’t agree more.
“I can’t say I didn’t hesitate when first asked to participate in a ballroom dance competition,” he admitted. “But l took a risk . . . and we won! And we won far more than the title – my team raised over $70,000 for a great cause, and, perhaps even more important: we were reminded of what we can achieve when we work together to benefit something larger than ourselves.”
“And I have to give my brother Melvin credit for encouraging me to do this,” Amerson continued. “As TMF’s resource specialist and author of three books on stewardship, Melvin counseled me to view participation in this event as a means of broadening St. Paul’s Christian witness in community, civic matters and leadership.”
Amerson was one of five community leaders who dazzled over 800 supporters of the San Antonio Area Foundation’s African American Fund (SAAAAF) at its annual Renaissance with the Stars gala held on August 18, 2018 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. He traded his solemn vestment robe for a gold lamé jacket and tore up the dance floor with salsa and R&B moves to Janet Jackson’s (ironically titled) “Control,” choreographed by dancing partner Lina Garcia.
The first pastor to compete, Rev. Amerson is quick to point out that their flamboyant dips, spins, and drops were for the benefit of the SAAAAF, a community outreach fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation. The fund promotes philanthropy and supports nonprofit organizations that serve African Americans in the San Antonio area.
“I really wanted to raise money and awareness about this fund among members of my congregation and the wider African American community,” said Amerson. Through grants, the fund supports nonprofit organizations that serve African Americans in arts/culture, community development, education, health and social/human services.
“This fund is directly impacting our community by strengthening African American families, students, rising professionals, entrepreneurs and our elderly,” Amerson explained.
Rev. Amerson not only won the title (while exponentially increasing the coolness of UMC clergy) and garnered the most money for the fund. He also expanded his awareness of the leadership talents and gifts of members throughout his congregation. Four St. Paul UMC members formed his fundraising team, organizing frequent events throughout the summer to raise money and awareness for the cause in the church and community.
“We got a late start, because I was actually second choice,” Amerson explained. “The steering committee wanted a Spurs player, but they got a United Methodist pastor instead,” he laughed. “But my team and church members made up for it. As grueling as my dance rehearsals were, their efforts were far more exhausting. They sold turkey legs and hot dogs in triple digit heat, put on a skating party and more.”
One church member gave $6,666, the largest individual contribution to the fund, in support of her pastor. One hundred church members paid to attend the gala and then added another $25,000 on the night of the event.
“Our faith calls us to step out and serve a God of abundance. I think we all learned that when we operate from an assumption of abundance rather than scarcity, we can let go and reach out, and there is no end to what we can accomplish,” Amerson said. “We didn’t take money away from the church or another cause – we gave to a cause that expanded the kingdom and will live on. We made new friends, deepened bonds, and discovered we are stronger together when we partner and collaborate to benefit something bigger than ourselves.”