The church used to be the center of the community. It was where everything happened socially, politically and economically. During turbulent times, such as a recession, high unemployment and increasingly out of control Black on Black violence, many people, especially Blacks, used to turn to their faith. Instead, today’s society turns to other things.
|REV. JEROME STEVENSON
One of the largest denominations represented in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area’s Black community is the Baptist church. According to the most recent edition of the Black Business Directory, there are 91 Baptist churches in Pittsburgh alone.
Many of the Black Baptist churches in Pittsburgh fall under the Allegheny Union Baptist Association, which is composed of more than 140 Baptist churches in the western Pennsylvania region and is led by Rev. Jerome Stevenson, moderator of the association and pastor of Morningstar Baptist Church in Clairton. For more than 20 years Stevenson has dedicated himself to preaching and pastoring in the ministry.
Recently, the New Pittsburgh Courier began speaking with leaders of various denominations to discuss their role in the Black community and how they are working to improve it.
“I think a generation and a half ago the church was the center of the (Black) community. And I am not sure whose fault it is but what has happened is that the church isn’t as esteemed as it once was,” Rev. Stevenson said. He added that it could be because society and culture has become so callous or that people inside the church are not carrying themselves the way they used to.
“The church needs to raise its self-esteem. The people need to carry themselves better and the church needs to do more collaboration with other entities in the communities, such as with schools and other agencies,” he said.
Reverend Stevenson said he believes that some of the major concerns of the Black community are Black on Black Violence, which stems from multiple things like drugs, territory, etc.; the school system, which he said more people need to be involved in the education process of our people; and the issue of family.
“There are a lot of children raising children and some children are heads of their households for whatever reason,” he said.
He agreed that the church has an important role in addressing issues critical to the Black community and said the Baptist church has several programs in place to address the needs of the community. He added that while the churches are under the AUBA, it is the programs within the individual churches that are making the impact.
“Each church has its own programs that are being held to address the issues, and there are some really great ones. There are various youth, mentoring and tutoring programs (within the churches),” he said.
Along with the issue of Black on Black violence spreading through our communities, there still remains the increasingly high rate of HIV/AIDS hitting Blacks at a more alarming rate than that of other ethnicities. And although parents and the community as a whole play an instrumental role in educating young people, Rev. Stevenson says the church has a role of its own. “The church has to become more aggressive in education for our people. The longer we do not talk about it, the more rampant it will become,” he said.
While the issue of HIV/AIDS in the Black community is still a taboo subject in the church, so is the idea of homosexuality, especially within the church. With the recent Pittsburgh celebration of Gay Pride, one of the city’s most popular annual citywide events and the passing of the same-sex marriage law in New York, Rev. Stevenson was asked his thoughts on homosexuality in the church. “I think gays should be welcomed in the church, but not in a role of leadership. We have to be careful, delicate, that we do not alienate them, but we must also maintain the standards that Christ set forth,” he said.
He explained that while Christ says love everyone, He also lays out in the bible what the ideal marriage is.
Although pinpointing what the issues and solutions are is all well and good, nothing can be accomplished if people are not on one accord. With the large number of churches located in the various neighborhoods within Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, Rev. Stevenson agreed that there needs to be more of an effort of churches working together, in and outside of the various denominations.
“I think we can do better within the (Baptist) denomination. We need to come together and do some collaborating. I am in Clairton and there are six churches. A lot of us (congregations) are doing the same things within our churches,” he said. He gave the example that if two churches with soup kitchens worked together and collaborated, they could have a greater impact, than if they worked individually.
Reverend Stevenson said the reason churches do not work together is, “because each individual church wants to get the credit. We need to get away from that mentality”
With mega churches like Mt. Ararat and Central Baptist, both of which have plans for expansions, and Ebenezer, and Macedonia, there is no doubt that the Baptist church is alive and growing and that its impact on the future of the Black community is just as great as it ever was.