Black History Month Marked by Movement-wide Reflection, Celebration
By Carl Stagner
If you’ve never worshiped at a church culturally and ethnically different than your own, you’re really missing out. The various expressions of worship among God’s people—within the Church of God movement and beyond—broaden our kingdom perspective, enhance our appreciation for the beautiful diversity in the body of Christ, and enrich our own spiritual journeys. This is especially the case during the month of February each year, when Church of God congregations from southern California to New England observe Black History Month.
At Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., Black History Month has long been a highly anticipated page on the calendar. How fitting, that in a city of such rich national history, in a church with such rich black history, the congregation once led by the legendary Samuel G. Hines would carry on a blessed legacy like this. Commonly associated with Black History Month, black heritage worship music and traditional African American dress are regular features of Third Street’s February celebration. Pastor Cheryl Sanders has also been known to present a children’s story about people of African descent in the Bible, such as the Egyptians, the Cushites, and the Ethiopians. Specific to this year’s celebration, during the Sunday school hour on February 16, the president of the Society for Financial Education and Professional Development, Ted Daniels, who is also the director of church operations at Third Street, presented a discussion on “changing the road to black prosperity.”
“We take time to celebrate Black History Month because of the deep spirituality that has connected African Americans to each other and to God in the struggle for freedom, equality, and justice,” Cheryl explains. “We sing the Black national anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ as a hymn of affirmation, thanking God for our collective journey and acknowledging the necessity of remembering how God has blessed us and how far God has brought us.”
Bishop Milton Grannum’s shares this sentiment. The co-founding pastor of New Covenant Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, underscores the need of the church to observe Black History Month as a way to disperse the shadows of a painful past that are cast still on parts of the present. “Black history is a significant part of the history of the United States and should be communicated as any other part of American history in terms of impact and importance,” he reflects. “Interestingly enough, just [recently] we saw on local television how some of the separation and segregation of the past are still present in parts of Philadelphia today. The Church still has to see, face, and embrace this aspect of its mission in our society in 2020.”
New Covenant Church pulls out all the stops in their celebration of Black History Month. Besides liturgical readings and drama incorporated into Sunday morning worship gatherings, they invite their neighbors to a community Black History presentation in worship and the arts. Once again in 2020, they’ve opened their doors to the John Graves Productions 100-Voice Choir, which performs cover songs and original music, reflecting the styles of rhythm and blues, soul, jazz, gospel, theater, and more—all in honor of Black History Month.
More than 1,500 miles to the west, one Church of God congregation’s observance of Black History Month this year is a relatively new experience. Presephoni Fuller is the first African American to serve as pastor of South Church of God, in Liberal, Kansas, in nearly a century. Now “that’s a Black History month moment!” she exclaims. With a 97-percent Caucasian composition to the congregation, Presephoni and her husband Willis brought more than a little diversity to South Church of God; they brought a spark of new life, which has truly reinvigorated the mission and ministry of the Kansas congregation over the past couple of years. The local Martin Luther King march, Rosa Park Ball, and other community events have been part of the church’s tribute to black history and, at the same time, have given the church a platform to speak the love of Jesus into their community.
“Why celebrate?” she reiterates. “It’s a time for community to reveal the beauty of diversity, and that we all bring something to the table. History will never let us forget how we got here. Many great strides have been made for us as a people group, and there is still more to be done and history to be written. It is my prayer that it will one day be no longer relegated to a single day or month, but that we can celebrate progress, no matter the color attached to it.”
Throughout the month of February, ministers of the Church of God take time to reflect intentionally upon, and thank God for, the influence of black leaders on their life and ministry. Pastor Presephoni Fuller offers some examples of those who invested in her—John O. Laster, her first pastor; the “late, great” Benjamin Reid, who instilled in her a love for the Word of God, even at a distance; and Jason McClendon, pastor of Community Church of God, in Macon, Georgia, who saw the budding minister within even before she did.
Which African American pastors or leaders have been an influence on your life and ministry?
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