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2013 Black Church Studies Consultation: a Recap

by Ashley Schaffner | Sep 06, 2013

Consultation's worship, panel discussion and workshop deemed "eye-opening, insightful, provocative."

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s 2013 Black Church Studies Consultation attracted more than 300 people, and was the largest and most successful event ever for the Black Church Studies Program, according to the program’s director, the Rev. Dr. Lewis Brogdon. The focus of the consultation was to teach attendees how to create change in local communities through the organization of development programs and ministries. Funding for the consultation was provided by a generous grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

See  photos of the 2013 Consultation here.

Opening worship took place on Tuesday, September 3 at Bates Memorial Church. President Michael Jinkins gave the opening remarks and commented specifically on the importance of anti-racism in theological education. “We hope that, though we are only one school, we can evoke change in an age that polarizes and demonizes difference, and that we can educate men and women for ministry that unites,” Jinkins said.

The kickoff’s main event was a keynote address delivered by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, who preached mainly on Luke 15: 1-8. His sermon carried themes of “The Good Shepherd” parable and highlighted Jesus Christ’s love for and ministry to outcasts. Reverend Wright called upon the church to seek out and to serve those in society who are most vulnerable while also holding accountable the powerful and the privileged, reminding his audience that God never stops seeking those who most need God's mercy and love.

Watch a video of the full address here. (Video may take several minutes to load/ begin playing.)

Of the address, Dean Susan R. Garrett said, “There are significant economic, social and cultural challenges that affect black churches and ministries today, and the need for the voice of experienced leaders is greater than ever. Dr. Wright's sermon challenged but also encouraged, called to account but also offered wisdom and hope of perseverance to Christians and especially to ministers who are facing such challenges."

Brogdon commented, “The recent Trayvon Martin verdict is evidence of deep problems confronting black Americans. Reverend Wright’s sermon addressed these issues and invited serious reflection and discussion.”

Also involved in the opening worship service was the Bates Choir, which wowed the audience when they performed, “The King of Glory,” and “Stand Up and Be a Witness” among other hymns.

Panel Discussion Invites Dialogue on Day Two of Consultation
A highlight of the second day of the consultation was a panel discussion titled “Ministry Beyond the Four Walls of the Church.” Brogdon moderated. Panelists included Wright; the Rev. Dr. Estrelda Alexander, president of William Seymour College in Laurel, Md.; and the Rev. Dr. Angela Cowser, director of the Center for the Church and the Black Experience at Garrett Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

The discussion opened with a question about whether present day circumstances are “as good as it gets” for African-Americans. The panelists gave a resounding “no.”

“It won’t be as good as it can get until we repent, reconcile and repair to move black America forward. The central state of black America will shift when we decide we’ve had enough and we put together a proactive program for our own children, for our own health, our own lives, our own salvation,” said Cowser.

Brogdon then asked each panelist to choose a social, religious or political issue of which church leaders should be aware, and speak to why they see that issue as important.

“We don’t have courageous religious leaders who are willing to be pastors,” said Alexander. “Until we have pastors who have courage, it doesn’t matter what the issues are. As long as they’re afraid to speak, or to be educated, or to dialogue with people of difference, then our churches will remain ‘entertainment centers’ where we come to get a spiritual high and have an experience of God, but we never become intimate with each other enough to share our lives. It keeps us bound, because we’re not really having church.”

“The big issues are myriad,” said Wright. “If I had to narrow it down, I’d say the main ones are poor and impoverished people, and how we treat them… the fact that we don’t want them in our churches. We’ll do missionary work for them, but we don’t want them to be part of our congregations.” He continued, “The same goes for the ‘hip hop generation’. We don’t want them and they surely don’t want us because they can see how phony we are!”

Cowser responded to the question with a larger question, “What is the purpose of the church?” She said, “If it’s anything other than changing the world, I don’t know how we can engage in any of the other significant issues. If we’re going to significantly improve beyond the four walls, our thinking and imaginations and funding have to go beyond the four walls.”

Seeking real-world advice, member of the audience asked, “With 80 percent of black churches in America consisting of congregations of less than 100 people, what can churches do to be most effective?” Wright advised “…some things do not take money.” Wright called for congregants to use their time and talents, not just their treasure, to affect change. “I’d encourage every church to take what they have and do what they can. What are your problems? Can your kids not read? Start a reading program. Start with the churches around your church that want to put their heads together and pool resources.” He went on to say, “The small churches are where you find community. Mega churches are where you find anonymity.”

In keeping with the theme of the panel discussion, Louisville Seminary alum Darvin Adams asked, “What should be the Christian church’s response to racism and economic poverty?” Alexander responded, “We need to teach our pastors what’s going on with the people. Let’s educate ministers and other leaders of the church on how to manage adversity before these issues get to crisis level, and then it’s too late.”

Following the panel discussion, five afternoon workshops were held on the Seminary’s campus. Workshop topics included “Community Organizing,” “Changing the Culture of a Congregation,” and “Preaching in the Black Church,” among others.

About Jeremiah Wright
Wright is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), in Chicago.  In early 2008, he retired after 36 years as the senior pastor and now spends his time preaching, teaching and leading study tours to Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean. Following retirement, Wright's beliefs and preaching were scrutinized when segments of his sermons were publicized in connection with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Click here for a related blog post written by Wright.

This is the second time Wright has visited Louisville Seminary’s campus; he preached at two worship services during the 2003 Festival of Theology.  

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