For decades the church has been a prominent staple in the Black community. It brought families together, addressed social issues, helped those in need and much more. Many events that took place historically happened at the church. This is especially true within the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination and churches in the city of Pittsburgh. Many AME churches were stops on the Underground Railroad, housed one of the first African-American schools and held many protests that led to social action.
|BISHOP C. GARNETT HENNING SR.
In recent years, some have wondered where the AME church has been and what happened to the presence it once had. Well, Third Episcopal District Presiding Prelate Bishop C. Garnett Henning Sr. says the church is alive, revived and committed to being one of the powerful institutions it once was, especially in the Pittsburgh area.
“The AME church has a presence, but needs to make a louder one,” Henning said. “One of my goals is to regain the glow of the church and regain the role of the church (in the Black community).”
Henning, who became the bishop of the third district of the AME church in 2008, is the leader of the Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region, Ohio and West Virginia conferences of the denomination.
He agrees that the church, in general, is slowly losing its reputation of playing a major role in the Black community and says that in order to get it back, churches need to, “focus less on the institution and more on the mission of the institution.” He also added that the leadership of the churches, need to play more intricate roles. They should be involved in the community, the politics that affect their communities and be in the forefront.
During an exclusive interview with the Courier, Henning gave his take on several key issues affecting the Black community and the church, and what needs to be done. In Pittsburgh within the past several years, Black on Black violence has continued to plague the Black community. Henning said the key to addressing the issue is, “We cannot wait until our young Black men and women are teenagers before we mentor them. We have to invest in them and let them know they can live a greater life beyond some they see,” he said. “And teach them that education is the key. In the AME church, we have put a high priority on education.” Not only are scholarships given for other schools, but they are also given for Wilberforce University, a school in Ohio, owned by the AME church.
Another key issue Henning touched on was family, which is also something that once was held sacred and now seems to be lacking more and more in the community. “One of the problems is that sometimes we do not have a clear definition of families,” he said. “Before it was the standard mother, father and children. Now there can be (different variations). For example, single mothers and children, single fathers and children, grandparents raising children, etc. We are at an age where people are so busy-parents are working several jobs to provide for their family and sometimes do not get to see their children and it’s up to the church to reach out to those kids and the family. The church has to help build strong families. This can be done through modeling it in leadership, through teaching and fellowship. It takes all threes of these things.”
Along with the issue of families, Henning also addressed the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which plagues the African-American community more than any other ethnicity. He said he feels the AME church is addressing the issue through awareness and while there are things being done through various ministries, mission projects and workshops for young adults and teens, there is always room for more to be done within the church.
Henning also gave his view on gay marriage and where it belongs in the church. “The AME church believes a marriage takes place between a man and woman. And we believe in what the Bible teaches us, we use it as a textbook for the things we teach,” he said. “If one has that lifestyle, that doesn’t mean that they’re not human. And we must come with a Christian behavior. It just means that it is not the lifestyle that we should model after.” He stressed that while he may not agree with the lifestyle, he does not feel anyone who does should be dehumanized.
While he has goals for the AME churches within the city and his district, Henning says that to address and resolve some of the issues of the Black community, the community has to work together. And that none of it can be done individually; it takes working collectively. “I think churches do not work together within or outside of the various denominations. We have to find ways to (reach) each other. There is room and need for greater cooperation. Many of the issues that need to be dealt with cannot be addressed individually-they need to be done collectively,” he said. “Let’s come together. There are some churches working together successfully and many more that should.”
While Bishop Henning said there are several programs in the works to be implemented, his main efforts have been with the Prison Ministry, which he said has received an award for its volunteerism. Along with the prison ministry, there are several book clubs in the works to deal with homes, families and health. Health is another important issue that has also been focused on within the denomination.
While the AME church is still a voice in the community, Henning is committed to re-energizing it, making its voice louder and getting back the glow it once had.