As we celebrate Black History Month, the role of the church in African American communities cannot be overstated. For centuries, the church has provided spiritual guidance and leadership, but has also delivered social services to improve education, economic mobility, health and wellness in Black communities.
Furthermore, churches have played a pivotal role in the African American struggles for freedom and civil rights, acting as a fierce advocate and safe haven during these movements. In the aftermath of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the nationwide protests of 2020, many churches increased their calls for social justice.
Meanwhile, as our nation continues to grapple with the impacts of COVID, Black communities have been disproportionately affected. Many Black churches have reimagined how to serve the needs of their communities during these unprecedented times.
In recognition of Black History Month, Givelify will explore the impact of the Black church. Our month-long series will feature Black faith leaders and their perspective on the Black church, Black history and where we go from here. This week, we hear from Reverend Akil Dickens, Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel AME Church in Durham, NC.
When you look back on American history and Black history, how would you describe the importance of the Black church?
The Black church has always been the anchor of the community. During troubling times, it was the Black church that was able to galvanize and bring people together from all different walks of faith for the common good.
So, in the role of American history, the Black church has always played a significant and vital role to bring about change. Whether we are dealing with politics, social issues, or economic issues. Whatever the issue was, it was the church that served as the symbolic place that people could come to build, strategize, mobilize, and also affect change.
Even in 2021, when people are running for political office, where’s the first place candidates want to go? The Black church because we understand there is still power in the church.
It looks a little bit different today. We still have to be able to hold on to our values and morals, so that we can come together for the common good of our local community to bring about a change and to hold persons accountable.
>>Related article: The Black Church & Black History in America – Part 1<<
What role do you see Black churches playing in the social justice movement?
The Black church has always played a major role in the social justice movement. It’s always been about bringing change. It’s always been on the front lines, whether it’s protests, marches, or boycotts. But it was also about those who came out of the Black church.
When we think about the bus boycotts in Montgomery, AL, we all know Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks played vital positions, but many people never think about the name Jo Ann Robinson. Jo Ann Robinson who was a stewardess at an AME church in Montgomery, AL, and served as a math professor at Alabama State University, was really the key figure to galvanize the movement of the Montgomery bus boycott. In the church, we understand that a change must come. We can’t just sit here and act like there’s nothing wrong. We have to do something about it.
The church is not only a staple in the community, but social justice and change comes from the church. Because that’s what Christ was all about. Social justice is paramount in the Black church. It always has and it should always be.
What advice would you give to other church leaders as they navigate this moment in time?
Do not be afraid of the moment. One of the challenging things with the church, so many are afraid of being stretched out of their comfort zone.
There was a show that I used to watch when I was young called Sesame Street. On the show, there was a group of characters called the Yerp Yerps. And the Yerp Yerps came from outer space, and they had access to the latest technology. But they were afraid to use the technology. So, when the phone would ring, they would be afraid or when the microwave would go off, they would be afraid. They had a fear of technology because they never used technology.
In today’s generation in the Black church, we have so many spiritual Yerp Yerps, where people are afraid to use technology. The technology was created and is here for us to use. It’s a beautiful thing. But it’s dysfunctional when we are afraid to use that which God has given us access to.
“In the midst of this pandemic, it has stretched so many churches to embrace technology.”
If you are a faith leader and you are still holding worship services the way that you held worship services 20 years ago, that’s good for your local congregation. But chances are, this next generation is not going to hold a conference call worship service. This next generation is not going to go back to a 3-hour worship service on Sunday morning. This pandemic has caused us to shift to embrace technology and rethink how church looks.
Whenever the church doors do open up again, do we go back to how we were before March 2020? Or do we make adaptions moving forward? We understand that we cannot change the gospel, the gospel remains the same. But the way that we present the gospel has to change and adjust.
How would you describe the state of the Black church today? How would you like to see it evolve over the next 10 years?
The state of the Black church is in a good space. It’s in an interesting space. I think we are in a space where we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, “Why do we do what we do?” and “How do we move forward?”
There are so many churches who now find themselves having service in less than 30 minutes, having service in less than 60 minutes. But they never before held service in that short of a time span. But it’s caused them to say, “Maybe we need to stop doing x, y and z?”
So, the question now becomes, when we get back, do we need to do x, y and z? Or are we just holding on to tradition? And what does tradition mean in 2021 to a generation who has not been exposed to tradition?
We have young folks coming up now who don’t know the Apostle’s Creed and who have never read a lot of the traditional stuff. So, the question moving forward is, “How do we as the Black church move forward?”
My prayer is that we will adapt to change. And realize that we can let go of a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff, we remember, we teach it, but we don’t need to practice it every Sunday because we are moving forward, not reversing back.
Emmanuel AME Church & Rev. Akil Dickens
One of the oldest known Black congregations in Durham County, Emmanuel AME Church dates back to 1880, when church services were held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Fitzgerald. In 1883, Mr. Fitzgerald erected the church on a tract of land owned by his family.
Rev. Akil Dickens is latest in a long line of pastors to lead the Emmanuel AME congregation. He was appointed to serve as Sr. Pastor in August 2020, after serving as the Senior Minister to Youth at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland.
Rev. Dickens brought Givelify to Emmanuel AME on his first Sunday as Sr. Pastor.
“For me, I don’t ever carry money. I am a giver, but I don’t carry money. I paid all my tithes and offerings on Givelify. That’s what we had at my old church, and so if I am at a church service and they don’t have Givelify, chances are I am not giving. I am not downloading any other apps.
On that first Sunday, 90% of our offering came through Givelify, and 90% of our offering came from outside of the Raleigh-Durham region.
Because the members saw the overwhelming response on Givelify the first Sunday, they did start to buy in and give through Givelify.”
Join Rev. Dickens and the Emmanuel AME congregation and do more good in your community with Givelify.