For many years the church has been a staple within the Black community. It was the place where people worshiped, socialized, where civil rights were advocated and even where political figures went to be elected. But a lot of that has changed; where the church was once the center of the community, it seems to have slowly lost its role within the Black community. Among the many denominations in Pittsburgh, the Baptist church is one of the largest religious affiliations within the city.
With many issues being faced by the Black community, the New Pittsburgh Courier has begun to ask leaders of the various denominations about their views on the role of the church in Pittsburgh’s Black communities and its future.
REV. MELVIN RIPPY
Reverend Dr. Melvin G. Rippy is the president of the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Pittsburgh and Vicinity, one of the leading Baptist associations in the city that caters to pastors, ministers and associate ministers in the Pittsburgh area and surrounding areas such as Erie, Pa., and West Virginia.
“It (the role of the church) has changed, at one time the Black church was the center of all activity within the Black community, which was something that has been lost,” Rev. Rippy said. “But the churches are shifting and becoming the center again.”
Reverend Rippy has pastored both First Missionary Baptist Church in Leetsdale and Deliverance Baptist Christian Center in Pittsburgh.
Youth and gun violence, high unemployment rates, lack of available healthcare and education are just a few of the issues plaguing members of the Black community, Rippy said his organization constantly discusses the issues of the Black community and how to address them. This coincides with their theme, “Preaching to heal the our city.” Some of the major issues that he said need a lot of focus on are the breakdown of education and literacy within the Black community, with the low scores and high dropout rate, and the breakdown of the family. He said that more than 50 percent of households within the community are led by single parents and that the lack of traditional homes, such as a mother, father and kids, has a major influence. He added that breakdowns such as these lead families to engage in at risk behavior like drugs, crime, alcohol etc.
“The church need to have a holistic approach (to addressing these issues) and address the ‘total man;’ his mind, body and soul. And (the church) needs to develop ministries that address these breakdowns.”
Along with those breakdowns, Rev. Rippy discussed healthcare, which is another important issue in the Black community. He said in regards to health, “Speaking from the African-American male’s perspective, we do not like to go to the doctor. We (as the church) need to encourage African-Americans, especially males, to get their annual check-ups. Some of the reasons why we do not go is the fear and that some people just cannot afford it. We are praying that (President) Obama’s Healthcare bill comes to pass.”
He also said that maybe in the future the community would see health centers within the churches. Blacks are more affected than other ethnicities when it comes to diseases that can be treated or prevented if the symptoms are caught in their early stages.
Sexuality is a major issue in today’s society, and the church is no different. Rev. Rippy was asked his views on homosexuality in the church and while he did not talk specifically about homosexuality, he did speak about sexuality in general. He said the Baptist church preaches abstinence. While that’s what the bible teaches in today’s society that can be somewhat unrealistic with many, so he said they also preach safe sex and the dangers of having unprotected sex. African-Americans have the highest rates of HIV/AIDS among any other ethnicity.
“Sexuality has been a taboo (subject) in the church. The church needs to be more open and have more dialogue about sexuality,” Rev. Rippy said. He also added that when God created everything, He created it good, but when engaged in properly. That even includes sex. He also said that by being less afraid and more open about talking about sexuality, it can be beneficial.
When individuals learn the right way to do things from the right people, they are less likely to engage in the activity improperly.
Improvements, whether physical or economical, come with teamwork and that includes within the churches. Many of the Black communities within the city and surrounding area have several churches (some of different denominations and some of the same) within a block radius. Rev. Rippy was asked what his views are on churches in the community working together inside and outside of their denominations, he said, “Our conference accepts ministers from other denominations (into their membership). We have always been open to the idea of people working together. I’m big on interfaith work, whether it’s Baptist, Muslim, etc. Everybody brings something to the table, especially when dealing with our communities. It goes back to our theme, ‘Preaching to heal our city.’ It takes working with everyone for it to benefit Pittsburgh and the communities within.”
As for the future of the church, Rev. Rippy said he hopes to see it not only grow numerically, but also spiritually. He said he’d like to see the spiritual growth more prevalent and relevant in our communities and for it to not be so inward focused and more outward in the community, bringing those outside of the church in and helping them.