Last Updated on December 31, 2009 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

In hard times Black Churches swing doors open even wider

By BVN Staff –

Throughout the history of the African American people there has been no stronger resource for overcoming adversity than the Black Church. From its role in leading a group of free Blacks to form a colony in Sierra Leone in the 1790s to helping ex-slaves after the Civil War; to playing major roles in the Civil Rights Movement; to offering community outreach programs in American cities today, black churches have been the focal point of sustainability and social change in their communities.

It comes as no surprise that in these times of budget cuts and partisan rancor over government’s role in providing social services, Black churches are de facto first responders addressing pressing human needs, including emergency food, clothing and shelter.

“No matter what the financial situation of the economy, among the least of these and the left out we are the seat of hope. The church remains the rock in a weary land,” explains Temple Missionary Baptist Church senior pastor Raymond Turner.

At the Temple Outreach Center located in the T. Hughes Building in San Bernardino, Pastor Turner takes a hands-on approach to the church’s outreach ministry. Four days after Christmas he huddles with front line workers including the center’s executive director Loistine Herndon.

“We don’t take community outreach lightly. Faith-based outreach centers have long been an oasis amid the storms. Hard times simply make that reality more evident,” says Herndon.

“We’re not strangers to struggle, depression or crisis,” says Turner. “The message through the years has been consistent: We preach and deliver hope.” We’re saying to the people in our community: “don’t sit back and wait for the recovery.”

“The economic rebound is coming. We have to prepare. We are our best stimulus plan. We are our best recovery package,” says Turner, co-founder of the Westside community advocacy organization, Inland Empire Concerned African-American Churches.

Indeed, the Black church’s historic role in providing Blacks with education, social services, and a safe gathering place prefigured its historic role in the civil rights movement.

Meanwhile, Temple and other churches in the region’s underserved communities are supplementing messages of faith and hope with practical teachings on nutrition, health, parenting, relationships, finances, job searching, entrepreneurship and business ownership.

That means says Turner we’re replacing hopelessness with self sufficiency through education.

For example “You won’t see long lines of desperate people waiting for food and shelter here. We bring them in from the winter cold and summer heat – and teach them how to cook and serve a nutritious meal. That’s self sufficiency.”

This year before giving out Thanksgiving baskets, he says people had to take three nutrition classes.

“Take the classes – get a basket. What’s more the people helped prepare the meal that went into those baskets. So when they sat down to eat and fellowship they got an education on nutrition and obesity as well.”

The T. Hughes Building acquired by Temple in 2003 was originally built by Councilwoman Valarie Pope Ludlam and Talmage Hughes. Herndon says essential services once considered government staples are an important part of the church’s faith mission and mandate.

“With our national health care system cracked and breaking and government cutting essential services to the poor we’re being called to fill the gap in the safety net. The work of our churches has never been more important,” said Herndon.

“We offer workshops on life skills, simple but essential tools like how to manage your money. It’s amazing how learning to balance a checkbook can help empower an entire community.”

She says programs such as life saving CPR, nutritional instruction and other health services help sustain families struggling with everything from foreclosure to depression.”

By partnering with local hospitals and national organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the American Diabetic Association the church has a direct hand in preventing disease and desperation.

Once a year, Temple offers a CPR instruction workshop to those who otherwise could not afford such training. Herndon says heart disease, obesity, diabetes prevent ion and exercise instruction promotes personal responsibility and makes for an overall healthier community.

“Outreach is more than the ministry of the church. It’s the ministry of Christ in partnership with the church.”

The bottom line says Pastor Turner “Black churches are more than the gospel…”

He points out, in the Bible, in every story where you find famine in the land, by the end of the chapter, “you find blessing, overflowing abundant blessing.

Through our actions we show the people we care.”

“There’s an old saying, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’.”