I am not presumptuous enough to assume that I can speak with authority on behalf of all Black women in the ELCA. I will, however, offer opinions that are based on experiences I have survived while being a Black woman in the ELCA. The opinions are also based on the experiences of other Black women whose paths have intermingled with mine during this journey. I have five suggestions about our needs in the church.
Increase the presence of Black males.
Black women, children and teens are seeking strong Black males to play significant roles in their lives. Because the church is very important to us we would also like to see that same Black male presence in the church: pastors, lay leaders, synod council members, and leaders at the national office. We need strong Black leaders, possessing a variety of gifts and opinions, enriching the lives of their families, the community and the church. This is a presence that Black women are longing to see. We have sports and entertainment role models, what we could use are religious role models..
Educate us on how we fit into the structure of the ELCA.
Once people can understand how they fit into the overall picture they are usually much more willing to contribute time, talent and financial support. Often Blacks do not have a sense of involvement in the workings of the church beyond their congregation. How does an individual congregation relate to the cluster, the synod, the national church structure? And, why is this structure necessary?
If the church took the time to educate Black women and all members on these matters, it might increase the sense of involvement and commitment. This education should also involve developing opportunities for our congregations’ participation throughout the church. Activities which provide interaction within the cluster, throughout the Synod, and at Synod Assembly could be the first step.
Assist us with raising our children.
What else can the Church do for me as a Black woman? Assist me with the overwhelming responsibility of raising my children. Make the church have meaning and continuity for them. When I began my life in the Lutheran church I had many passages to look forward to, i.e., the youth choir, the young adult choir, Sunday school, Luther League, day camp, and Lutheran schools. I knew how my life in the church was going to unfold. There were goals I wanted to achieve within the church.
This does not seem to be the case in today’s church. Our children need to be able to participate in structured activities and have the opportunity to develop long-lasting, church-based friendships. Not just within their congregation, but also throughout the entire church.
Assist floundering congregations before they dissolve.
Congregations are losing members and facing the realization that they can no longer support themselves. Despite the fact that this is tragic, we may have to realize that the continuity we desire may not be provided by our neighborhood church in the future. There is nothing more emotionally heart-wrenching than to have your congregation die before your eyes. If the time comes when a church can no longer exist, the Synod must provide alternatives that will continue to address the spiritual needs of the congregation.
I experienced this loss when the congregation I grew up in closed. Since then I have been in two other congregations where it was painfully evident that a closing was imminent. Mechanisms must be put into place to prevent this from happening. Let’s plan for a life after death before the funeral is necessary. When churches begin to fall below a certain average attendance level let’s initiate dialogue for the purpose of instituting alternative measures.
Leaving members of a dying congregation floundering results in resentment and disillusionment with the church’s governing body. Also, it results in the loss of valuable, viable resources. Uniting one or more floundering congregations could make each of them stronger with more resources. The pastor can then concentrate on evangelism, teaching the Gospel and Lutheran traditions without the stress of maintaining financial stability. Combining congregations is a possibility that must be considered. I suggest that we use members of other congregations who have successfully met this challenge as counselors for the closing process. Initiate the process before the situation is terminal.
Welcome me to worship with you, even though I do not look like you.
I would hope that other congregations in the ELCA would gladly receive me if my church closes or I move away from my old neighborhood.
elcome me into your congregation; we can both benefit from the experience. Seek me out to join and participate. If we interact with one another, won’t that allow us to break down barriers and invite understanding and acceptance? Maybe it should begin with entire congregations visiting within their own cluster and eventually spreading throughout the entire Synod?
Lutherans in predominately minority churches on the west and south sides of Chicago and the southern suburbs are serving the same God as North Chicago, and the northern and western suburbs. If you are truly a follower of Christ you will welcome those that are not a mirror image of yourself to your church family. Can we benefit from inclusivity versus exclusivity?
I have been to congregations where I did not feel welcome and fellowship was not forthcoming. The look on the faces of the members clearly indicated I was not a welcome visitor. No one stepped forward to ask, “Are you new to the area? Are you a member of a congregation?” or, “Shall I come by for a visit?”
I have served as director and teacher of Sunday school, president of the church council, founder and president of a branch of Aid Association for Lutherans, served on building campaign committee, adult forum leader, synod council member, Assembly delegate, etc. Without seeing me, but knowing my record of service, would you welcome me to your congregation? Why have some of you not welcomed me when I arrived at your doors? Once you see me, do I need to prominently display a resume of my skills and accomplishments before I am truly accepted? I hope not.
I ask the leaders and members of the Metro Chicago Synod to recognize and utilize the gifts of Black women. Actively seek to interact with us that we may learn about and grow with each other. Give us confidence that our church will be there for us.
Let’s not avoid, ignore or be afraid of our differences. Let’s learn from, lift up, celebrate and enjoy our life with each other in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.