Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
This week I went home to Chicago to visit with my family. While there, I toured the new church my home Pentecostal congregation just built. They are having their first service in the new facility on Sunday, which will seat 3500. They currently have 12,000 members. When I first came to the church in 1977 there were less than 200 members.
It is difficult to compare the growth of this mega-church with the decline of the Presbyterian denomination. But there are several differences that must be taken into consideration. This Pentecostal church is located in a community called Bronzeville. In 1910 when African Americans left the oppression of the South by railroad, Chicago was one of the Northern destinations. Unfortunately, they were forced to live in this one area of Chicago. Government redlining, city laws, and community contracts where whites agreed not to sell to blacks, created a huge ghetto. This area of about 1.5 square miles, reached its peak of over 75,000 African Americans in 1950. My Grandparents (who arrived around 1920) lived there. My mother was born there in 1933, and her youngest child (me) was born there in 1958.
As the city opened up and people scattered to different areas and communities, Bronzeville was always home. There are at least three mega-churches in Bronzeville. My Dad and brother who currently attend this Pentecostal church, live over 30 minutes away in the South Suburbs. Like other members of the church, they pass hundreds of congregations, as they drive through the streets of Chicago to worship in Bronzeville.
Are there ways Presbyterians can work with an African American mega-church to provide services for a community that Presbyterians are struggling to reach? I believe it is possible.
As Presbyterians, our future will be different than our past. It will be a future of partnerships and collaborations. I see a future where Presbyterians work with other denominations and other faith traditions to reach the mission field we are called to serve.
Some of our partners are already defined. We currently have a Formula of Agreement with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), UCC (United Church of Christ) and the Reformed Church of America. This means that any ordained pastor from these denominations can be installed to serve Presbyterian churches, and vice-versa.
I see a future where we will broaden our connections to include denominations and congregations outside of our reformed tradition, especially racial-ethnic churches. Working together, we can align the best of our faith traditions, and reach a more diverse population during this time of racial ethnic change in our society. Working with churches that are majority racial-ethnic, as well as non-profits, we can connect with people outside of our tradition, but inside of our mission field. We can share our grace-filled-gospel to new ears, and lead to a fresh way of being church that keeps us vibrant and relevant into the future.
Rev. Craig M. Howard