Role of church needs to be refocused 

Preaching to the Choir: Isn't it about time the black church served its community?

On a recent Saturday I was with a friend, working on the landscaping at his church where some ministers were attending a meeting. We were raking leaves and cutting grass as some 30 or more ministers began to arrive. As we worked on the hedges in the parking lot, the clerics filed past.

Most of them were people I didn't know, but black Southern tradition dictates that greetings be exchanged — apparently an outdated notion because of the 30 or so ministers only a handful even looked at us, fewer still bothered to say "good morning."

Having been raised by folks who came from small communities where everybody knew everybody else, I was taught to think an exchange of greetings is almost essential to social interaction. I find myself somewhat out in left field these days when most people don't even know their next-door neighbors.

Still I was dismayed that these African Methodist Episcopal preachers seemed to have lost that old-time religion and didn't see greeting us as perhaps part of their religious obligation. One young minister passed us three times without so much as a wayward glance.

The host pastor, however, gave me some hope that our values hadn't totally disappeared. He came out to greet us personally and to wish us a good day.

Since then, I'd been stewing, trying to figure out how I could write about the experience without seeming petty. I realize not everybody is into the greeting thing. Just because I was raised to feel one way doesn't make that feeling universal. In some communities you could go crazy greeting everyone you meet. And then there are some folks I'd rather not have to greet anyway.

But the rude preachers ticked me off. I told myself these were men and women ordained to lead us in the Christian spirit of brotherhood. But how could they lead me when they seemed to have forgotten to acknowledge my existence?

I shared my thoughts with Charlie "Cheese" Smalls the other day and Cheese convinced me the subject might be a worthy one. According to him, the lack of Christian-based leadership is at the basis of most unsolved problems in the black community.

He pointed to the role of the church in the abolition of slavery and more recently, in forwarding the goals of the civil rights movement.

The black church can impact issues like family planning, criminal and addictive behaviors, and economic empowerment. But it's been conspicuously absent in the effort to address those issues, he said.

Black ministers drive into black communities on Sunday morning, headed to their respective churches, but they are rarely seen any other time anywhere else in the community.

The ministers don't attend PTA meetings in the communities where their churches are located and have very little knowledge of what goes on at the schools attended by the members of their congregations. Predominantly black schools today face some of the most challenging issues ever. The black church can impact the persistent academic failure so prevalent among students at predominantly black schools in a variety of ways. When afterschool care and tutoring are so desperately needed, the doors of the church remain locked until Wednesday evening Bible study or Sunday School on Sunday morning.

In many communities illegal drug trafficking occurs adjacent to black churches, but with rare exceptions, such as Mrs. Cora Memminger's 20-year street ministry at Mall Park, few other church members venture outside the church walls to talk to those dealers.

Cheese is convinced the issues that plague our community could easily be resolved if the church moved beyond a leadership that, for the most part over the past several decades, has remained elitist and self-perpetuating. A clergy that defines itself through organizational affiliation and status in church hierarchy rather than service to parishioners condemns the black community to a continued future of relative poverty, ignorance, and disenfranchisement.

I must agree. Until the black church fulfills its obligation, one of the most powerful organizations in the black community will remain an untapped resource.

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