While attending a recent service at Reid Temple AME Church, I was moved by the address from a representative of the Malawi Youth Aid organization where the church’s missionaries serve. I was proud to hear that the church I am a member of not only brings people to Christ but it also takes part in effective overseas mission work. This information made me think about all the other Black churches I know doing their part locally- and internationally. You see, the popularization of prosperity preaching, pulpit pimping and sexual scandal within some Black churches has overshadowed the fact that many more Black churches are actually doing the right things and not wavering from their social missions to serve their communities.
Research in a survey done by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Public/Private Ventures created to measure the impact faith- based organizations have on their communities found that 91 percent [of the churches surveyed] offered at least one social service program, from food pantries to summer camps to substance abuse prevention programs. The finding also estimates, if all of these institutions were suddenly to eliminate their outreach programs, it would cost more than $200 million to replace the social and community services they provide. (Source)
As such, Reid Temple’s community services and outreach touch the lives of more than 10,000 needy men, women and children in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Through programs that provide free meals, distribute clothing and toiletries, first aid, emergency services, and homelessness relief, Reid Temple is a beacon of support in the nation’s capital.
Also a strong force in its community is Greater Centennial AME Zion Church located in Mount Vernon, NY. Best known for producing greats such as Heavy D., Pete Rock and Diddy, Mount Vernon, NY is now a city with an ever-increasing crime rate and a Violent Crime Index more than twice the national average. As a result, Greater Centennial has become a place of refuge for Mount Vernon’s estimated 40,000 urban residents. Led by Rev. Dr. W. Darin Moore, Centennial has numerous Outreach Ministries, including David’s Kitchen; a weekly soup kitchen that serves hot home-cooked meals prepared by the churches CFO to needy residents.
Centennial also boasts a Children, Youth and Young Adults Ministry that is helping to shape the lives of the next generation. The ministry partners with non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity to help clean up and beautify the surrounding neighborhood. “In order to take back our community, we have to be accountable and responsible for its youth,” shares Rev. Keisha J. Agard, Centennial’s Children, Youth and Young Adult Minister. “We [the church] have to spin the image the youth have of themselves so they can see what they can do and not stand by and watch life go by,” Rev. Agard.
While Reid Temple and Greater Centennial have the financial resources to do lots of work in the community, smaller Black churches, like Tanner-Price AME Church in Windsor, Ontario stretch their resources to answer the needs of the community. Led by a Pastor of the millennial generation, Rev. Marcus A. Cylar, Tanner- Price is striving to leave its mark. Rev. Cylar believes we have to be in the community to spark change. He further states, “As a people we have gotten comfortable with consistency. There is more than just coming to church and serving [inside the church].” Thus, Tanner- Price is beginning its Men’s Ministry and opening an employment center this summer to meet the direct needs of the surrounding population.
Another church heavily focused on the immediate needs of the community is Brown Memorial Baptist Church in the Clinton-Hill section of Brooklyn, NY. Faced with the housing challenges associated with gentrification, “We make an intentional effort to focus on informing, educating, and increasing financial literacy through workshops, seminars and panels,” says Rev. Clinton M. Miller, Pastor of Brown.
A 95-year-old staple in its Brooklyn neighborhood, Brown strives to keep the tradition of the Black church as it relates to social justice initiatives. Following in the footsteps of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, Brown Memorial advocates for public policy changes, affordable housing and education issues. “A church that is not in touch with its community will become irrelevant,” says Rev. Miller. Being irrelevant is not anything Brown has on its agenda. Rev. Miller concludes, “We stress the importance of having a voice so our people can self-organize and use their resources for change.”
Acting locally isn’t all the Black church is doing. The church is becoming a global force as well. Similar to the mission efforts of Reid Temple, Elizabeth Baptist Church of Atlanta, GA, is a church that thinks locally and acts globally. Housed in five locations throughout the Atlanta Metro area, Elizabeth Baptist has found a way to touch the lives of community members in a way that brings perspective and long-term personal growth. Under the direction of Dr. Letra Smith, Elizabeth uses mission trips to places such as Kenya and India, to open up the minds of the community. Dr. Smith explains, “Through these mission trips we want our community members to develop intensity for serving others.” And their strategy works! Its outreach ministry goes into the woods- yes the woods- on a monthly basis to feed the homeless that are often forgotten. They also travel to Clarkston, GA where there are over 53,000 refugees. There they feed not only their spiritual needs but also their nutritional needs.
As my dear Aunt Madea would say, Hallelujer!
These five churches highlighted may not be a representative sample of every Black church in America; but their works do represent the fact that our churches are not dead in our communities. Our churches still supply the needs of our communities in sprit and in service. As Rev. Dr. Moore says, “If we begin to see the church as more than a space to worship on Sundays we will discover its endless opportunities.” It’s time that our churches begin to receive the headline news that praises the God it serves and not the devil it condemns.
You may now say, Amen.
Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a featured writer and blogger with a passion for community engagement and giving. Her energy can be read weekly on Friends of Ebonie. She is a servant of God and proud of it. She currently resides in Washington, DC but home is Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on @EbsTheWay.