Sep 27, 2006 Ken Jackson Uncategorized
Speakers at the first-ever Black Church Expo, held last Saturday at the Dr. Martin Luther King School, reminded the community that the black church is still a force in Syracuse.
“There seems to be a lot of myths and erroneous thinking surrounding the effectiveness of the black church.” Rev. Colette Matthews said as she adjusted her clipboard in preparation for the opening ceremony.
The Black Church Expo combined worship, prayer, performance and commerce with over 35 vendors and a sampling of area businesses and churches. Funeral services, makers of inspirational gift baskets, the Syracuse Community Health Center, financial planning consultants, adoption services, various community-based agencies were all in attendance for the Oct. 23 event.
“Our church is still rich our church is still helping our community,” Matthews said. “We’re doing a good job in the care of our youth and caring for our elders. And we’re doing a good job healing broken hearts. When agencies have failed us, when governments have failed us when people have disinvested in our communities, when social services grants have dried up it’s been the black church that’s picked up our community and put it on our backs.”
Recent trends indicate that African-Americans’ once black-only congregations are now leaving the black church and joining mega-churches and attending integrated worship services in the suburbs. This perception doesn’t faze Matthews.
“We’re living in a different society and I think that people like choice and they like change,” Matthews said. “But that does not minimize the effectiveness and work of the black church, we are still strong we are still saving souls.”
Matthews disregards anecdotal proclamations of an exodus from the black church, bolstered by a recent Syracuse University study. “My research shows that we touch over 10,000 people in the area,” she said.
Rev. Leslie Johnson II, pastor of Tucker Missionary Baptist Church, was less diplomatic and went straight to the point.
“One of the reasons behind it is to dispel some of the myths about the so-called ineffectiveness of the black church,” Johnson said. “We wanted to correct that erroneous propaganda that’s going out. We are strong. We are united and we’re together. I think it’s a false impression spread by people of color who’ve left the black church and have gone to other nondenominational churches. But if I left a church I would not want to leave a stain on the church that I had left.”
Johnson continues, “One of the things that I had to deal with coming from the south is changes in how God works in communities especially in the sphere of religion. I’ve been the pioneer of women in ministry in our community. I’ve licensed and ordained the first women pastor. I’m a champion for women in the ministry, especially if they’re trained.”
Matthews sees changes in women’s roles in the black church over the past decade.
“I think that in the beginning 10 years ago there seemed to be some resistance, but a decade has brought about a lot of change,” she said. “I think that female pastors — well trained pastors — are more widely accepted and I think that African American women are taking their rank in the black church and slowly but surely it’s becoming more acceptable.”
“One of the things that we’re planning on doing is to have an Economic Development Conference to make us aware of what’s going on in our community and what’s available to our businesses on the local state and federal government levels.”
Johnson said that representatives of several churches have formed an alliance whose mission is to bring in some businesses, like sandwich shops and bookstores, that could be owned and operated by area black churches and church-based investments.
Next year, the church will unveil new initiatives targeting women in the church. When asked about the patriarchal nature of the church and the absence of women on church cornerstones Johnson replied that what has already been done cannot be changed. But she does see a day when women will be a permanent and integral part of church history, including on the cornerstones.
The planners of the first Black Church Expo hope for a more visible, involved black church in Syracuse and promised the greater community that “this is just the beginning of what we can do.”
As Matthews preached to the crowd: “There’s going to be a real sense of who we are. When businesses fail, the black church survives. When governments fail, we’re here … and in Syracuse we’ve been here for over 115 years.”