By Cait Kemp
For the third episode of “Celebrating Black History Month” hosted by the Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement, Springfield College hosted the Reverend Dr. Terrlyn L. Curry Avery for a discussion titled “The Black Church: Friend or Foe of the Community? ”
Dr. Calvin Hill, Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement, introduced the event at the start of the webinar, and Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Felicia Lundquist, paid homage to the land and introduced the distinguished speaker.
Dr. Avery presented a unique perspective of all aspects of life within a black church community. Traditionally, the church is the epicenter of life in black communities. In her own experience, the church was a family to her. Historically, it was often a safe place for black families, especially during the civil rights movement. People gathered at Sunday services, where they learned the latest information about what was happening in the Fellowship. It was a symbol of unity and represented much more than just a place of worship.
“You don’t think the 1955 boycott movement happened by accident? It wasn’t just Rosa Parks fatigue,” Avery said.
“It was a planned movement, where they had many meetings about this movement, and one of the places where they would have meetings would be at the church because it was, again, a safe place to go and talk about what we would do to advance the movement, to advance the cause for us.
The black church entity was born in the early days, with ancestors like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman bringing their own ideals of religion and belief in God. They had to do something about it for themselves, rather than what the white colonizers were preaching.
However, Avery highlighted some negative aspects that can be seen in black church communities.
Through these early beliefs, a safe place for black people was developed – yet after more than a century of championing inclusivity, the black church tradition was seen as oppressing other marginalized groups, such than the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We in the black church will talk a lot about sexual immorality, and we often want to consider being LGBTQIA+ to be the most sinful thing,” Avery said.
“We don’t look at our own behavior and what we do. In another way, we seek to point fingers and therefore LGBTQIA+ people feel that you are hypocritical and feel judged.
She also explored the idea of youth within the church and how religion is beginning to have a different meaning for the new generation compared to tradition. Young people bring new ideas into the church and even seek spirituality outside the four physical walls. They want to see and hear themselves represented; over time there will be an evolution and growth of ideas within the black church.
Avery’s overriding message: the black church is both friend and foe to the community.
She stressed the importance of making the church a place where people can go to meet their spiritual, mental, emotional and physical needs. Being inclusive of all, accepting and forgiving all people and their journeys. In a world where there is so much negativity, the church should be that safe haven that it was all those years ago.
Photo courtesy of Springfield College