The church has always been a place for residents of the community to turn to in times of not only sadness, but also joy. It is where residents went not only for worship, but also fellowship. Churches are sacred. They are not only a place one went on Sundays, but also often other days of the week. While the church still remains in the community, its role and even the mentality of its congregations may have changed.
BISHOP WARREN MATTHEW BROWN
(Photo courtesy of the Mid-Atlantic II Episcopal District office)
In a recent interview with Bishop Warren Matthew Brown, presiding prelate of the Mid-Atlantic II Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, he discussed the church’s role in the Black community and its vision for the future.
“Nearly every institution is changing its role in society, but the changing role has nothing to do with the message. The message of the church is constant and it is how we implement it. The role of the church is to be a voice of morality and spirituality,” said Bishop Brown.
Bishop Brown was the 91st bishop elected to the AMEZ Church and along with Pennsylvania, presides over Maryland; Virginia; India; London, England; and Angola, Africa.
While Bishop Brown says the church’s role within a community is still important and has a place in the community, he also admits there are more obstacles in today’s society that get in the way of worship.
“Fifty years ago the church was the only place that our parents and grandparents got any respect-they were deacons and elders. And the church was not in competition with society; malls weren’t open on Sunday and we did not have to worry about football. We are in competition with issues we weren’t formally. We can have ‘In God We Trust’ on our money and swear on the Bible in court, but we cannot have it (religion) in our schools, and so many of us are now confusing entertainment with glorifying the Lord.”
Although he admits that the church has had to be more creative in its approach to worship, he said the remedy to the problem is that, “the church has to decide it is not going to give (in) anymore. We need to get back down to earth worship, but it must include animation.”
Members of the Black community have been struggling far greater than that of their White counterparts. The unemployment is greater, the education is lower, health is poorer and not to mention the Black on Black violence that is destroying our communities. When it comes to addressing these issues impacting the Black community, Bishop Brown says the AMEZ Church is trying to do its part. He said more than the other institutions, the church has focused a great deal on health and wellness by conducting health clinics and screening, making information available and by advocating the importance of going to the doctor. Along with health, he says that they are also addressing unemployment, housing and, of course, the violence.
“We are losing people. It’s violence for the sake of violence, violence without a cause. We (the AMEZ Church) are concerned with that because it’s very destructive to our community and when people feel unsafe, (people do not leave their homes) or they move.”
He says that all these issues are related and that no one in leadership can focus on one without focusing on the other.
In many of the Black communities it’s the violence that is impacting residents the most and Bishop Brown suggests that the solution is that people are going to have to care about who lives next door and that it takes people speaking out against the violence.
“We do not need another liquor store or another place to play the lottery, (in our communities).”
He also adds that it takes holding on to one’s faith and hope.
The Black community has a large homosexual population and with religion, this is a topic that many are reluctant to discuss. When asked about the AMEZ Church’s views on homosexuality in the church, Bishop Brown said, “Everybody is entitled and encouraged to worship.” Although he is not opposed to homosexuals in the church, he does make it known that gay marriage is not something that is condoned. “We as a church have issued a statement saying we are opposed to gay marriage.” He explained that gay marriage is something that violates the Bible and what God has established as marriage, which is the basis of their religion-God’s Word. He added that as a bishop, any pastor under his jurisdiction who is found to be or has performed a marriage between a couple of the same sex, will be in trouble and that it will not be tolerated. He was quick to reiterate that just because the church is against gay marriage, does not mean that they cannot be in the church.
Bishop Brown has a vision for the growth of the AMEZ Church and said it is going to take more evangelism and the forming of Christian relationships with other people to achieve it. And most importantly it is going to take working together, which is one thing he, like many other religious leaders, admits is something the church, in and outside of the denomination, needs to work on.