The A.M.E. Church’s loss is a loss for all us

I’ve been told this will appear in the Salem (MA) News on Monday. SO this is for y’all who are not on the North Shore of MA.

According to the U.S. Census Massachusetts may not be as diverse as some other states, but if you live, walk, drive, work here then you can clearly see the great diversity of our Commonwealth. The U.S. Census reports that of those who completed the Census in the Commonwealth 8% are Black, 6% are Asian, 10% are Hispanic. 15% of our residents were born outside of the U.S. and 21.9% speak a language other than English in their home. Hispanics and Blacks together own 6% of firms in the Commonwealth. When immigrants go to a new place they often look to find a familiar church to seek support and comfort. There are ten African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Churches in Massachusetts. These churches have a strong historic significance and are important bastions of hope, service, growth, justice, equity, and unity.

untitledHistorically, for the African and African American communities the Church is one of the most important social institutions. The A.M.E. Church is one of the most important churches in the U.S. It is the oldest, most stable, largest historically black church in the United States and abroad. It has been the foundation for the creation of schools, colleges and universities, housing, and other social, intellectual and cultural institutions such as literary societies, fraternities and sororities. Since Reconstruction the A.M.E. Church Bishops and Pastors have served as Congressmen, Senators, City Councilors, Mayors, and School Board members. The commitment to civic engagement and justice has been evident for centuries and is enacted on behalf of the entire community. Ministers, Bishops, congregation members are often on the scene after racial incidents in Missouri, Baltimore, Texas and not just this year but since the inception of the Black Church.

The first settlers quickly established churches and as more people came from every corner of the world, more churches with specific languages and rituals and practices were created. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, places of worship are sacred. They bring hope, unity, and solace to many. A place of worship is one of the first institutions new comers to the U.S. seek out when they arrive. Churches feed communities, offer safe space for meetings (AA, NA, boys and girls scouts, etc.). Churches feed our bodies, our minds, and our souls. Despite a lot of backlash from society against religion, religious institutions and leaders, most churches are places open to all without question. I know exceptions exist, but not within the A.M.E. Church.

Richard Allen was one of the key founders of the A.M.E. Church. In 1787, after being forced out of a Methodist Church in Philadelphia where they were praying Allen and others were inspired to have a church in which Africans could worship without discrimination. The first A.M.E. Church is called Mother Bethel and is located in Philadelphia, PA. The A.M.E. Church and its colleges and universities have always been open to all without discrimination or any kind of exception. It is not surprising that a young, Caucasian male sat in prayer with others at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina without being questioned. It is a church that was implicated in the Denmark Vesey slave uprising/rebellion. The church was burned and its participation in that state banned. Today the Charleston community has come together in strong unified support of Emmanuel, their members, and their Pastor, the Honorable Clementa Pinckney.

Churches, in particular churches founded by immigrants and people of color are an important fabric of our society. They represent hope, progress, growth, justice, unity, and are a place where people from different walks of life come together in comfort and peace, or at least in theory they should be able to. Justice will be swift and hopefully served appropriately. Tragedy has struck within the walls of a house of worship that has historically fought for equality and social justice and it is a sad day in our society. In a time where race, race relations, and racial identity are hot topics, we should be outraged and work to protect all of our historic institutions and their missions.

I grew up in an A.M.E. Church. I was married in an A.M.E. Church. My mother was funeralized in an A.M.E. Church. The A.M.E. Church is partially why I have a Ph.D. I am deeply saddened by the shooting at Emmanuel A.M.E. in Charleston and I am disturbed by the rhetoric and dichotomies presented of the racial violence in our country. We must do better.

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