CLERGY CORNER: The faith of the Negro

Posted on 25 February 2016 by LeslieM

I recently attended a concert in Delray Beach that featured the harmonious excellence of the Legato Vocal Ensemble. The gifted group of mostly African American singers and musicians delivered a powerful performance to a full house at Church of the Palms. The first half of the concert included traditional arrangements of some classic hymns, such as “Come Thou Fount” and “A Wonderful Savior”. A stirring rendition of the spiritual “Elijah Rock” drew vigorous applause from the racially-diverse audience. It also caused me to reflect upon the power of song and faith in the history of Negroes in America.

It is well-documented that slaves found comfort and hope in the Christian faith, often expressing both in the moving spirituals that were part of their worship gatherings. Though many songs were passed down orally, making it difficult to identify the original composers, they possess an enduring appeal that stirs the soul of any generation. Songs like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”, and “Steal Away to Jesus” provided solace and strength to a people who identified with the plight of Abraham’s descendants in Egyptian bondage. It is even known that some spirituals also served as protest songs that inspired and informed about the path to freedom in the north.

Later songs like “Oh, Freedom” and “We Shall Overcome” carried on the tradition of hope during the Civil Rights Movement. Many of the leaders of the movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Andrew Young, Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. Jesse Jackson were men who came from the church motivated by convictions that were shaped by their faith.

To this day, numerous churches can be found in any community with a preponderance of black residents. This attests to the powerful role that faith plays in the life of African Americans, who sing and worship with passion in the average black church on any given Sunday.

Negro faith predates slavery in America, despite the negative stereotypes of a superstitious and pagan people as portrayed in films about Africans. Church history has documented that the Christian faith was firmly established in North Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia as it expanded from Jerusalem in the first century. In fact, the churches in North Africa and Ethiopia were the leading churches in the second century. It has been argued that many of the church fathers, such as Clement, Origen, Athanasius and Augustine, were men of African descent.

These facts are to be appreciated and celebrated as we observe Black History Month. Undergirding the achievement of many individuals of color was a faith that inspired them to stand firm while striving upward and longing for a better day. It was a faith that trusted God’s promises of deliverance and blessing. It was a faith that inspired them to believe that they were worth far more than what their circumstances indicated. It was a faith that helped them to hold on believing that they would see the glory of God.

It is a faith that must be passed on to our children and grandchildren, a faith that will sustain them both now and in the future, a faith expressive of the same sentiment and conviction as that of Moses in Psalm 90:1. “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

During this observance of Black History Month, let us recognize the undeniable and indomitable faith of the Negro.

Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.

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