Black American Church Amazing Grace

Dr. Benjamin Chavis | 2/24/2012, 1:57 a.m.

America is blessed by the presence of the effective and diverse ministries of the Black church. On February 18, 2012, millions of Americans, as well as millions of others throughout the world, were transfixed and glued to their television sets and laptops as they watched the dramatic yet graceful, transformative dignity of the Black church during the four hour live broadcast from the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey of the funeral celebration of the life and legacy of Whitney Elizabeth Houston.

For many this was their first in-depth witnessing of how the Black church functions in the social and religious setting of American society. We all are very grateful to the Houston family for sharing that uplifting and inspirational experience with the rest of the world. In short, that was a global "teachable moment."

Pastor Joe A. Carter of the 103 year-old New Hope Baptist Church and all of the participants in the service of worship are to be saluted for "having church" in the best and exquisite tradition of the African American church during the funeral ceremony. The prayers, the choir, the solos, the numerous testimonials and the eulogy by Pastor Marvin Winans were all full of the spirit, substance, and power of the tradition of invoking the redemptive service and gift of the unique ecclesiology of the Black church. Professors C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya in their book, The Black Church in the African American Experience, reminded us that the Black church was established as an institution expressly to deal both with the specific salvation theology and empowerment sociology for African Americans and others.

The Black church has not only been the historic backbone of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, this institution continues today to be the mainstay where the spirit and soul of Black America reverberates with the essence of what it means to overcome the snares, pains and difficult realities of Black life. But the Black church is also that place where the joys and passions of our long struggle for freedom, justice and equality are eloquently expressed and strategically organized. That is why today, many clergy leaders are joining together to help build Occupy the Dream as an interdenominational organizing and mobilization effort to address and respond to the issues of income inequality and economic injustice with particular respect to the African American community.

During the past few days, I have had to opportunity to further witness the diversity of the efficacy of the contemporary Black church. In Rahway, New Jersey at the Agape Family Worship Center, I heard the eloquent and dynamic sermon of Pastor Lawrence R. Powell and saw the enthusiastic response from the inspired congregation that goes out to make a positive difference across the state and nation. Later in Cleveland, Ohio, I viewed the young visionary leadership of Pastor Shane K. Floyd at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church lead his church members with community leaders on the issues of options for improvement of the education of our children in the public school system. Then on Sunday morning, I went home to the church of my ordination, Oak Level United Church of Christ, in Warren County, North Carolina under the charismatic and activist leadership of the Pastor Leon White for over 50 years. That evening I went to St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church in Oxford, North Carolina where African American Episcopalian Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, preached a soaring sermon on the Christian legacy of Absolom Jones and how the post-modern liberation agenda of the church needs to be fulfilled today.