Sixty-four African American churches receive booster grants

Mission partners’ collaborative efforts benefit historically underserved congregations

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Nick Morrison via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — When Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministries realized they had some underspent funds in their budget this year, the Rev. Carlton Johnson, coordinator for Vital Congregations, had an idea: Why not use the funds to support  historically underserved African American churches in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

Johnson shared his idea with the Rev. Michael Moore, associate for African American Intercultural Congregational Support ministries in Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries.

Using a portion of funds from his office and additional Presbyterian Mission Agency funds from TFE — in collaboration with the National Black Presbyterian Caucus and the RE&WIM grant team — Moore’s office was able to identify a large portion of African American churches and communicate this grant opportunity to them.

The result of these expeditious efforts: Sixty-four congregations received grants ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 to help them with their continual and changing ministry needs brought on by the pandemic.

According to the Rev. Dr. Brian C. Henderson of St. James Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the church session decided to use the $2,200 grant the church received to buy a multiple channel video mixer, which will be essential to improve the quality and presentation of the worship experience of those watching online.

Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York, got a $1,000 grant which Siloam’s interim pastor, the Rev. Eric Thomas, was grateful to receive.

The Rev. Eric Thomas

The aging congregation has been without technological equipment in the sanctuary. The grant will help the church purchase a dedicated mobile device along with a microphone. This will improve the quality of sound and video available for hybrid worship for congregational members at home.

“We have so many African American senior citizens who shouldn’t come back until we find out it’s safer to travel,” Thomas said. “Even though they’ve been vaccinated and boosted, many rely on public transportation with ride share options. So, any worship we do must be hybrid.”

Siloam member Iris Harris has been working on the project and is grateful that the church now has a way to begin addressing its technology needs, which are ever-changing.

The Rev. Sonya Allen at Bellefonte Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, North Carolina, was working with the session to upgrade the church’s sound system, as well as add screens in the sanctuary, just before COVID-19 hit. The capital campaign was put on hold. Then in 2021, the sound system went out.

“So, it was a blessing to get this grant money,” Allen said. “It brought a new way of understanding and appreciation from my congregation when they heard they had received this grant. It felt like the national church cares, and it lightened our feelings of how we’ve been impacted by the pandemic.”

Johnson’s relationships with pastors and leaders of these congregations — and his own lived experience — helped make the way clear to award the grants.

The Rev. Carlton Johnson

Aware of the disproportionate impact of the recent and multiple pandemics on African American congregations, he is thankful for TFE’s collaborative effort and the work of his colleagues in RE&WIM.

“These grants are affirming of my prayer that our work in building congregational vitality is manifest in true and tangible outcomes,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III

For the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, the director of TFE, the booster grants are a good example of ways in which PMA ministry partners are beginning to collaborate more intentionally. He said it’s his prayer that collaborative ministry “will truly meet the needs of leaders and churches across the denomination.”

The Rev. Denise Anderson

According to Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries’ coordinator, the Rev. Denise Anderson, RE&WIM has long enjoyed working alongside TFE colleagues to resource communities of color in the PC(USA).

“This grant is yet another opportunity to provide key resources to one of our constituencies and we appreciate TFE’s attentiveness to the needs of African American congregations in the denomination,” she said. “We hope this will inspire and invite other opportunities to examine and address disparities in the church.”

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