This week we want to share a guest blog by my friend, Rev. Alisha Smith Haddock, minister at Christian Journey Fellowship Church and director of the McGruder Family Resource Center in North Nashville. Recently we featured my interviews with her recorded earlier this summer. Right now is a very important time to join hands across our communities and work together for change. Here’s how one minister is doing that in Nashville. ~Eileen
My Love for North Nashville and the Black Church
While the Black church is still present and vital to the community, it is no longer the epicenter of activity in the community and its relevance is being questioned. Resources once found in the church houses are now found more frequently in community-based organizations.
Have generations become so far removed that the disconnect is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean? Have we come to a place and time where we aren’t relating to church leadership? Church attendance is declining, violence especially youth violence is on the rise and our communities are experiencing gentrification at a rapid pace. What happened? The leaders are still there, but what worked in the past doesn’t produce the same impact in the present. There is a solution: we need more inclusive leadership.
North Nashville is a historic, unique and predominately Black community with immeasurable value. I was raised in North Nashville and have an enduring love for this special place, its people and its faith community. My faith in God and my love for the North Nashville community and all it represents is what fuels and informs my work in the community.
Working in a community with a treasured past that has not been equally or adequately represented in the larger community has its challenges. Mainly because many of its voices are going unheard. The Black church must play a critical role in amplifying neglected voices to remain relevant to this present age. While predominantly white communities are appreciated by city government, communities like North Nashville remain overlooked and ignored. Communities like North Nashville require much attention from the Black church and city leaders speaking up for more economic development and community input on the direction of its growth.
Help and Encouragement
Historically, the Black church was the epicenter of the community. Most Community solutions were born in the church. The church and its pastors were deeply involved in the community. They knew the needs and systemic causes of harm. And significantly, they had a direct pipeline to city leaders. In fact, some of those pastors were themselves city leaders. Neighbors could go to the church for anything. For example, they might seek legal help, food, financial help with a bill. They could also receive an uplifting and encouraging word “to hold on just a little while longer.” The church was the go to place for all things moving forward in communities like North Nashville. Fast forward to the 21st century and we have a community searching for the “right place” to go.
The Black church was the epicenter of the community. Most community solutions were born in the church.
Community-based organizations are now the go to place for members of the community. And the need is increasing for the critical services that they provide. People in the community come to places like the McGruder Center in North Nashville daily. The center provides for basic needs: rent/mortgage, utility, and food; youth development, after-school tutoring, summer camp, and virtual student support; arts and culture activities, youth and intergenerational arts programming; civic engagement; and workforce development/entrepreneurship, such as culinary training, sewing training and bi-lingual banker training.
Still Doing the Work
Let’s be clear, the work is getting done. The church is still present and community-based organizations continue making an impact.
The McGruder Family Resource Center (MFRC) and partner organizations show up for the community every day. The MFRC provides for:
- basic needs (rent/mortgage, utility, food, and financial literacy)
- youth development (afterschool tutoring, summer camp, and virtual support)
- arts and culture (youth and intergenerational arts programming)
- civic engagement (participation in our local community)
- and workforce development/entrepreneurship (culinary, sewing and banking)
The McGruder Center’s partnerships with other organizations vested in creating and sustaining healthy communities has made the McGruder Center a go to place for community wellness.
At the beginning of the pandemic, McGruder Center deemed itself as an essential business. People continued to show up at the door two weeks after the March 3 tornadoes. And although the Metro Health Department asked everyone in the city to stay home, the needs did not go away. The McGruder Center staff figured out how to socially distance, and we made sure people had food, home goods and supplies. For North Nashville and places like it, the community and its issues remain a priority. We need to amplify the diverse and unique voices inside of the community. For they are crying out. Like, “A voice heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15 NIV). The church does this work, but it must also meet all of its neighbors where they are.
The Black church, especially certain denominations, have failed to fully include the voices of women and same gender loving people in leadership. As we look in the community women lead well. Women lead nonprofits, private companies, districts, and cities. I am grateful for the denominations and churches that do include neglected voices in leadership. The Black Church, however, must do better in the areas of gender and sexual orientation to remain relevant in our communities in this present age. Leadership in our communities must be inclusive and versatile.
I am a Black woman, a Baptist minister, and community leader. Yet very seldom do I receive an invitation to the table to be part of decisions about the community that I help shape. The common prescription when there is a high-profile police-involved homicide of a Black person in Nashville is to calm the Black community by involving Black male clergy. They make their rounds on the news and in the community in an effort to control young Black energy and thought. Yet, in my recent recollections, no young person, woman, or non-Black clergy person stands up at those pressers. That’s concerning, because the Black community and the struggle against oppression is inclusive. We have many voices, faces, genders, non-genders and allies that care about our community and should be included in the fight alongside our churches.
In 2020, our community is more diverse. According to Pew Research Center, one in four parents living with a child in the United States today is unmarried. Now, 29% of all unmarried parents who reside with their children are fathers, compared with just 12% in 1968. LGBT adults who are non-white are more likely to view their LGBT identity as very or extremely important to their overall identity: 44% of non-whites (including Hispanics) say this, compared with 34% of white LGBT adults. Since 2008, more Black women are going to seminary to earn their Masters of Divinity.
How about the Church?
The community is changing and so should the church. The Black church’s leadership must change too. Women are leading in the boardroom and in the community as so it should be in the church. We have women pastors and they lead boldly and fearlessly, doing what the “Lord say do,” but in order to make a larger impact our voices must be included in all facets of church leadership circles, various denominations and in more board rooms. Shirley Chisolm said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”
Women are capable of doing all that and more. We’ll keep bringing our folding chairs, but we’ve been through the fire and we know how to build our own table now.
Rev. Alisha Smith Haddock's "Love Letter to the Black Church" @HearSheComes
— Three Minute Ministry Mentor (@3MinuteMin) December 4, 2020
Expanding Leadership in the Church
The church must come on board and bring back the torch bearing leadership that provides light to the community, the city and the world and dignity to its Black neighbors. The church must regain the moral standing that includes the voices of the marginalized and the powerless. When we follow Jesus correctly, the powerless hold the power. The power comes from the bottom up. Matthew 11:25 says: “At that moment Jesus said: My Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I am grateful that you hid all this from wise and educated people and showed it to ordinary people.” John Legend says, “We’re Just Ordinary People.” The ordinary is special to God.
God has given us a unique opportunity in this space and time to be attentive to God. What do you think God is saying to us? Is God saying share your power because holding all of it isn’t what’s pleasing to God? Is God saying it’s time for a change? What can you change in your life that will make a positive impact in the life of others? Share your power! Share your influence, resources, time and talent. Make a difference that will have lasting impact for generations to come. Outlive your life, positively, with the power you have today. We have to be brave and courageous in sharing what God has given us with those who need it. We hold the solution.