Celebrate Black church history with Afro-Christian Convention study guide

As Black History Month wraps up, the United Church of Christ Historical Council encourages congregations to make plans for continued study of Black history within the denomination.

The book Afro-Christian Convention: The Fifth Stream of the United Church of Christ, published last summer by the Pilgrim Press, highlights the tradition of independent Black churches with deep African rootedness that received affirmation in 2022 as one of the unique historical religious streams that came together to form the modern-day UCC.

“The story of the Afro-Christian Convention as the fifth stream of the United Church of Christ is a little-known part of our ‘hidden history,’ that clearly points to some of the gifts and challenges of our collective story,” said Julia Speller, a member of the Historical Council and a leading voice of the Afro-Christian tradition. “But it also reveals important lessons that will help us live more faithfully and fully into our commitment of being a ‘united and uniting’ church.”

The book’s description explains how the Afro-Christian Convention offers a story of faith, survival and empowerment in the hostile environment of racism, and yet, “the spirit, worldview, worship and impact of Afro-Christian Convention churches are not appropriately represented under the banner of the Congregational stream of UCC history, a stream informed predominantly by white perspective.”

Former General Minister and President Rev. John Dorhauer apologized for this “white supremacist rewriting of our history” during the 2023 General Synod in Indianapolis.

‘Tools for our work and witness today’

But the need for ongoing and more widespread engagement remains.

A free, eight-part study guide is available to accompany Afro-Christian Convention, available for download from the Pilgrim Press website. It is intended for small groups, Bible studies, book clubs, polity classes and all others who wish to discuss the Afro-Christian tradition.  

Speller was a co-author of the study guide and has used it with congregations.

“While it is important to know this story, it is equally necessary to discover how the values that sustained the Afro-Christians in the past can be important tools for our work and witness today,” she said. “The study guide is designed to help congregations focus on these values and be encouraged to model a more authentic response to ‘difference’ in their churches, embody a renewed, liberation-infused theology in their practices, and demonstrate a deeper spirituality in their communities and the world.”

Speller notes how Louis Gunnemann, in the book The Shaping of the United Church of Christ, reminds readers that “to know the beliefs, movements, and events comprising [our] history is to begin to accept ownership and to be shaped by it. … In that process, insights are gained, perspectives brought into focus and visions renewed.”

The Afro-Christian Convention: The Fifth Stream of the United Church of Christ book and study guide are both available from the Pilgrim Press.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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