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.