African American ministry holds forum
June 12, 2022
In the first of three forums the Rev. Dr. Terrlyn L. Curry Avery, the pastor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, addressed the subject of service, sacrifice or self-care.
The conversation with the Rev. Michael Moore, associate for African American Intercultural Congregational Support in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, began with Moore asking Curry Avery, “When you think about holistic health, what in your view does it mean to be spiritually, emotionally and physically awake?”
Curry Avery replied, “I want to say is that we, especially in the Black church, we’re always good talking about the emotional piece” of the spiritual component.
“I think that sometimes we get that spiritual piece confused with what we need to do emotionally and physically. Because you use the term ‘awake’ and I think that we have a lot more waking up to do in the first place in order to understand that there is a deep connection between the emotional and the physical.”
“One of the things that has happened for Blacks historically is that if you look at the disparities that are there with health, if you go even further back to when we were enslaved, we were not taught to care for our bodies. We were not taught to care for our emotions. As a matter of fact, we were taught to ‘suck it up.’”
Curry Avery says Blacks could not afford to be sick, no matter how sick they were. “We had to still go on out there and we had to work,” she said. “We were taught to lean on God to help us get through. And of course, God is awesome for helping us to get through, but there is something that we need to do as well.”
“I go back to how, when Moses was at the Red Sea, God said, ‘Well, why are you crying out to me? Use the rod and staff in your hand.’ For us [Blacks], that rod and staff may be going to get some treatment psychologically for the issues that we deal with and understanding that we don’t have to wear this badge of sacrifice.”
According to Curry Avery, this badge of sacrifice is particularly worn by Black women. “As a Black woman, we wear this badge of strength and courage and it’s OK to say that,” she said. “But then when we do that, we don’t get the help that we need, because we think that there’s something wrong with us. We don’t get the help we need if we are experiencing depression or anxiety, or we’re feeling a little overwhelmed and emotional. I think when you use that term ‘awake,’ it’s important for us to understand the ways in which we send ourselves messages that it’s not OK to get help.”
In the conversation that’s been viewed more than 600 times (see it here), Curry Avery addressed the unrealistic expectation of pastors having an answer for everything. “We have to first admit that we don’t have all the answers and not carry that on our shoulders,” she said. “When a parishioner comes to us, we’re supposed to have the answers sometimes — it’s OK to say, I don’t know the answer to that. One of the best things we can do for people is to simply hold space for them — not try to figure it out for them.”
“There are two things that I want to say,” said Curry Avery. “One is around this issue of self-care. Audre Lorde said that caring for myself ‘is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.’ I hope that if we leave with nothing else from this conversation today, I want you to know that self-preservation is for our own good.
“The second is this: We don’t have to solve everybody’s problems because when we try to solve them, it doesn’t open the window for them to understand how to solve their own problems. There’s an African proverb that I often use with people when they’re coming and they’re talking about their issues. I will say, ‘I honor your ability to find the resolution to that problem.’ In that way, it creates an empowerment within them.”
Gail Strange, Director of Church and Mid Council Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, June 12, 2022, Trinity Sunday (Year C)
First Reading Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Second Reading Romans 5:1-5
Gospel John 16:12-15
Today’s Focus: African American ministry forum on holistic health
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Kathryn Threadgill, Associate Director, Theology, Formation & Evangelism, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Doug Tilton, Mission co-worker serving in South Africa, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
God of us all, we give thanks that you bridge the gaps of age, language and culture. Guide us as we partner with our brothers and sisters around the world, and give us open hearts and minds to hear your voice. Amen.