Black History Month and the Local Church: Celebrations Enrich Culture, Enhance Unity
By Carl Stagner
Nearly two decades ago, two churches in Phoenix, Arizona, came together to form a brand-new Church of God congregation. While neither church retained its former name, and each one embraced its new singular identity, the longstanding practices, cultural nuances, and heritage of the formerly separate churches weren’t discarded apart from careful consideration of their lasting value. A merger of one predominantly Black and one predominantly white congregation wasn’t without hiccups along the way, but the blending of ethnic and cultural traditions was one aspect of the experience that enriched corporate worship and fellowship—and ultimately enhanced unity amid diversity. Though observing Black History Month as a local church was something new for half the newly merged congregation, February soon became an annually anticipated time of year. For many Church of God congregations across the United States and Canada, February comes again this year with similarly heightened levels of anticipation.
Take Kansas City Community Church, for instance. The Kansas congregation of the Church of God is pastored by Charles Cofield, who looks forward each year to Black History Month with great enthusiasm. “What blesses me most about the opportunity to observe Black History Month, personally,” Pastor Charles explains, “is that it allows me to reflect back on the sacrifices of others before me who risked everything for what they believed, and that everyone should be treated equally. As it relates to the church, it is a time when we can come together and celebrate through worship and praise, thanking God for how far he has brought us since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Each year, Kansas City Community Church brings out the best in music and the arts to augment the Black History Month emphasis, but their celebration consists of more than a special worship service. “This year we plan to observe Black History Month by placing posters honoring Black history facts and people throughout the interior of our church building,” Cofield explains. “In addition to this, we will also play select, short Black history media/videos during worship.”
Third Street Church of God in Washington, DC, is another example of where Black History Month enriches culture and enhances unity. Each year, under the exceptional leadership of Pastor Cheryl Sanders, the congregation never fails to thank God and celebrate how they’ve “come this far by faith!” In addition to traditional aspects of their celebration, they’ve also found creative ways to engage the younger generation and reach people in spite of the challenges of COVID. To the congregation and community, leadership recently announced that the church would highlight select persons in their own pews who “are advancing and thriving in career and ministry because of the doors that history-makers have opened.” A creative “virtual paint party” as part of the young adult ministry would also commemorate the annual occasion. Rev. Dr. Cheryl Sanders explains.
“The PIVOT Virtual Paint Party is a fun way to fellowship and connect. In celebration of Black History Month, our painting will be themed to celebrate Black heritage. People who register [in time] will receive all materials—canvas, paint, brushers—for use at the party. Everyone will be on Zoom to watch the instructor and see each other’s work.”
Of course, Black History Month celebrations at the local church level are not limited to Kansas City and Washington. The Heights Ministries (Charlotte, North Carolina) has encouraged congregants to “support Black-owned businesses and watch documentaries or read educational articles” related to the contributions of Black people on church and society. The Worship Center (Omaha, Nebraska) has a history of observing Black History Month through special pre-service tributes to “celebrate where we’ve come from and where we have yet to go!” And, in Baltimore, Maryland, Transforming Life Church of God has a tradition of encouraging congregants to “come dressed in Afrocentric or African-inspired attire.”
As the Phoenix, Arizona, church understood by experience, Black History Month gives all people—regardless of ethnicity—the opportunity to reflect on the goodness of God. In so doing, we recognize that Black history isn’t just Black history; it’s history, and the God of our collective history is the God who holds a future of endless possibilities in his hands.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: A pre-COVID celebration of Black History Month at Kansas City Community Church of God.