By Chaplain Mike
It is my hope that our conversation here at IM will include perspectives from as many cultures and traditions of the Christian faith as possible.
One privilege a hospice chaplain has is to become acquainted with people from various backgrounds and experiences. For example, I have thoroughly enjoyed befriending, serving, and spending time with many African-American families in Indianapolis.
Now that I am involved here at IM, I would love it if this forum could be used to help us all learn more about the black church tradition in America. Perhaps our conversation could be one small step in helping Jesus’ church, gathered from all peoples and cultures, become more unified in fellowship and mission.
I have lived most of my life in predominantly white communities. Growing up in small towns in the Midwest and the suburbs of Chicago and then Baltimore, we experienced little in the way of cultural diversity. In the 1960’s my Chicago grandparents left their city address behind and moved to the suburbs as the old white neighborhood changed. I played sports against teams with black players, but that was about the extent of my involvement with their culture.
The college I attended was in Amish country. Pure white bread, except for a few folks from overseas. We started our adult life in Vermont. All Yankee. All white. The Chicago suburb our young family moved to so that I could go to seminary was a diverse city, but our little church had few minorities, and my school, with its Scandanavian roots, was still mostly white and located in a wealthy, primarily Caucasian upper class suburb.
South side of Indianapolis, where I live now? African-Americans still hesitate to travel or settle down here on this end of town. At one time, this city was headquarters to the KKK, and the south side in particular has a long reputation for being a “whites only” zone. Though things are slowly changing, people of color remain a few flakes of pepper in an entire shaker full of salt here.
Still, I am part of a generation that came of age with the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, the matchless music soundtrack of Motown and Stax records, movies like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, comedians like Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor, busing and integration. We watched the horrors of the Watts riots and Dr. King’s assassination. I’ll admit I really didn’t understand much and that I am still far from knowledgeable about my neighbors, but I have always felt the power of MLK’s dream.
So it has been wonderful to expand my woefully parochial experience and begin to get acquainted with folks from Indy’s black community.
Just today, I attended a funeral for a man who attended one of our city’s African-American churches. As I stood with his wife at the casket, she said her minister wanted to meet me, so I walked back to the piano where she was preparing for the service. When I introduced myself, she shrieked with delight, hugged me tight and said, “Mike! I’m so glad you’ve come! I so appreciate your ministryâ€”I was a hospice nurse before I went into the ministry. Would you please say a few words in the service today?”
The black churches have wonderful traditions in their funeral liturgies. Letters are read from their government representatives expressing condolences, as well as cards and letters from sister churches and other friends. The sense of a whole community grieving the loss of a friend and neighbor is palpable. Every pastor in attendance who has a relationship with the family is invited to give remarks. So I had the privilege of sharing my brief experience, expressing my condolences, and speaking a brief word of hope from the Scriptures.
The services are participatory and the congregation lively in response throughout. The pastor gave her message with such conviction and emotion that it was like she put her hands on my heart and just pressed hope into it. And, oh, the music!â€”incomparable in providing an opportunity for reflection and emotional release.
On this occasion, I was one of the few white folks in the room. Everyone graciously and enthusiastically welcomed me, and the service moved me more than I can say.
This got me thinking:
- Why do we hear so little about our African-American brothers and sisters in our discussions about evangelicalism?
- Why are we still so separated from them, some 45 years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act and everything that came after?
- Why are our churches still so segregated?
- Why are there so few partnerships between predominantly white churches and black churches? We have so much to offer each other!
While in seminary, I became acquainted with a ministry that has intentionally pursued racial reconciliation and partnerships between black and white churches. This ministry started back in the 70’s when a young white family and some of their friends committed to racial justice moved into the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s west side (my grandparents old neighborhood!). They committed to live in this troubled area and share Christ’s love with their neighbors. The results have been remarkable.
There are many times I wish I’d gotten more involved in the city and with ministries like this earlier in life. And I wish I weren’t still so ignorant about what’s happening among my brothers and sisters from different places and backgrounds.
That’s where you come in.
In today’s comments, I would like to hear especially from our African-American friends.
We need you to educate us! What’s happening in the black churches today? What theological issues are you facing? What areas of ministry and mission are you excited about? What doors is God opening? And what do you think about the segregated situation we continue to have in Jesus’ church?
To be honest, I’m not sure I even know what questions to ask. Forgive my appalling ignorance and help me as we begin to talk.
Please let us hear about what Jesus is doing in your midst.