Presentation on theme: "A visit to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church By Patrick Waring Ball State University."— Presentation transcript:
A visit to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church By Patrick Waring Ball State University
Identification Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Muncie, Indiana is a historically Black Church of about 50 members all of who are either of African-American Descent or people with Mixed African American descent. I was a guest of one of the Church Members who works at Ball State as V.P. for Diversity-Dr. Charles Payne and his Wife June who works in the counseling Center
What Group Did I Visit With: After some discussion of what group were would focus on, my host and I mutually agreed we would discuss members of the AME church, both in Muncie expanded by his own experiences in other AME church he attended from Mississippi, to Virginia, and Muncie. Therefore, the cultural group we are discussing here is members of the AME church. The discussion is focused on the Group here in Muncie, but also includes the life experiences of my host The Church was founded for people of African descent but, depending on where the church is located may include people of many colors, including White people. However, most members are of African Descent
Some Views of Bethel AME Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 1018 E. Jackson Organized in 1868, Bethel A.M.E. Church was the first African American church in Muncie. The brick church and parsonage were built in 1914 and replaced by a new structure on the same site in the early 1980s. c. 1975 Black Churches in Delaware County Collection, PSC65/05 (University Library, c.1975) The Old Church Building
New Church and Home Page Information “Welcome to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bethel is the oldest African American church in Delaware County. Bethel welcomes all believers and all those still searching to join with them during our hours of worship, study, fun and consultation. We believe that God is our father, Christ is our redeemer and all men and women are our brothers and sisters. This website is always under construction. If you didn't find information you need, call us at 765-288-5473 or e-mail us at (Click link to send e-mail)” (Bethel AME Church, 2012)
Some History In 1787, Richard Allen, an African American Freedman and some of his fellow freedmen were pulled of their knees while praying at the alter of St Georges Methodist Episcopal Church (later The United Methodist Church). After much discussion, Allen and his associates founded a new denomination separate but similar to Methodism. They had to sue in court for the right to be autonomous of the Methodist Church. The AME, with the help of the Union Army, help recruite many newly freed slaves to free states and membership in the AME during the end of the Civil War while confederate states were collapsing. The AME is now an international denomination with churches on many continents. (African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2012)
Some Bethel Muncie History Was founded by 12 African American residents in Muncie House Church from 1868-1872 Bought the property on Jackson in 1872 Has continued in Muncie since that time If interested you can read the entire history at: http://bethelmuncie.com/history.html (Bethel AME Church, 2012)
Differences, Pre-perceptions, My Own Biases Examined Well I was the only white person at the service, although 2 students from Indonesia were also visiting while studying for the summer with a BSU professor that is a member. I know I was hesitant to just show up without asking if it would be OK for me to do so, merely because of the word African in the title of the church, I was concerned they would not be welcoming to a White boy. I was expecting a fire and brimstone service with plenty of audience participation (Stereotyping on my part!) Things I was told about Black churches when I was a child. I was expecting some dancing or jumping or large movements probably because of television scenes of Pentecostal churches as Black Churches and my own families belief that church should be solemn and people should not talk in church. I think it was explained to me at an early age that Black Churches were too wild and unpredictable for them to be real churches I was worried what to wear, as my perception was that Black People dressed very formally for church. I was concerned their might be some White Bashing or Gay Bashing in the service. I was wondering if the congregation would be mostly poorer people or young mothers with children.
Differences, Pre-perceptions, I was worried whether I would be an intruder or welcomed as a visitor. I was worried about the heat in the church because I am used to churches not having A/C and it was a 100+ day outside. I was worried I would be seen as being too stiff as I was not used to speaking at church at various points with exclamations like AMEN! I have also been living in Hawaii and Hong Kong for 20+ years and have had little to no exposure to Black people during that time, so I was worried I would say or do something stupid that would embarrass me or hurt someone in the congregation. I knew that in some fashion this church exists because of White protestants. I knew much of my own national churches wealth came from money that can be directly traced back to slave labor and slave trading. I was worried I would not be able to keep up with the service. Since coming back to the Mainland U.S., I do notice I have some anxiety around Black People that I never used to have. That is why I thought it so important to reacquaint myself with a Black community when I thought about where to visit for this project. All in all, while I knew intellectually that there was no problem. My internalized biases, prejudices, and stereotypes were still there and caused some quantum of Anxiety. In all honesty, I can say attending this service helped my to reconnect to my own comfort with the Black Community that I had before leaving the continental US.
Post-perceptions Very Welcoming-had me eating breakfast within 2 minutes of coming. They welcome all visitors I learned in my dialogue with Dr. Payne after services People talked with me with ease and no sign of discomfort at breakfast and after the service. The service start time is around 11:00 am, they usually wait to make sure regular members of the church are not running late for some reason (as compared with my own church which starts on time to the second) Children were very much a part of the service, singing in the Choir, ushering, collecting money, and being very involved in the service. There was no fire and brimstone, just a message of hope and love and community mattering. While people were animated and did talk in response to the preacher throughout the program, it was not some wild, dancing, large gospel choir in robes, or otherwise aggressive service
Post-perceptions There was one reference to the desire to not touch lepers as being the same as the desire to not touch a person with HIV in the sermon that bothered me, but not what I would call White or Gay Bashing. The congregation was mostly widows with a wide range of old, young, single moms, couples, children and students from BSU The church had both hand fans and central A/C. I was more stiff and formal in church than most members there and there were shouted out Amen! peppered throughout the service with other similar positive exclamations, but I did loosen up eventually. Despite the fact that the denomination only exists because of some very racist behavior by white Christians in 1787, there seemed to be no animosity toward me as a white person. Because of my anxiety at not being around Black People for such a long time was unfounded, at least with these people I felt very much at home. I had no anxiety left within 2 minutes of coming in the door, being heartily welcomed, and then fed breakfast with community members was great. The elimination of racism internally is a life long process. We all absorb racist messages from media, family, friends, co-workers, and a thousand other sources. This visit to Bethel AME quelled a large amount of fear I had been experiencing after being away from Black People for so long as well as made me realize how much of an Asian take on racism against Black People I had absorbed and can now let go off realizing it for what it is, an unreasonable set of information and internalization of beliefs that are simply not true.
Why Bethel AME? I wanted to choose a traditional Black church because of my own need to see and feel the exclusion of people from some actions of White Christians. I Choose the AME because of its history tying it in with the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Churches racist past. I wanted to experience a larger group of people all who looked different and had a history of oppression I had not really understood until later in life. I had some understanding of oppression and isms with being gay and disabled but not much because of my skin color. I wanted to experience the result of the history of racism in American history as well as Christian history.
My feelings and reactions I really enjoyed the spirit of welcoming that was there when I attended the services at Bethel AME. All members were aware of the racism that lead to the founding of the AME church, yet did not seem to let that stop them from not only welcoming me but asking me to please come back any time I wished. I was nervous when I entered. I was worried about asking some of the probing questions required by the assignment but those fears evaporated because of the welcoming I received. I was aware throughout the service of my own differences in appearance than most members of the church. I was shocked at how similar the service was to Episcopalian Morning Prayer services and with how familiar I was with the Hymns and singing that went on. I actually sang more at Bethel than I do at my own church, simply because everyone was so involved in the singing and it was great to be singing with a bunch of people singing for the joy of it, rather than trying to sing “properly”
Feelings and Reactions I was a little irritated by the simile of leprosy in biblical times as being similar to HIV, but that was the only time I felt any prejudice against other groups. I became very moved by the joyous nature of the service and the joy on the faces of both the congregation and the children who were the choir this particular Sunday. I had the opportunity to meet a larger group of people of color who I truly enjoyed meeting and was so grateful for their willingness to share their church with me. I was embarrassed by my own worries about reverse racism prior to arriving and being so warmly welcomed. I was embarrassed by experiencing exactly the opposite of what my internalized racism, prejudices, and sterotypes were prior to the observation experience.
My Dialogue with Dr. Payne, treasurer of the congregation, stalwart member of the Church and VP of Diversity at BSU. I spent over an hour with Dr. Payne dialoging and I wish to thank him for his willingness to share, discuss, and talk with me for the project. My experience would not have been as rich if he had not spent this time with me. I am very grateful to him. I actually asked each question on the list given in the syllabus so I will answer them in order.
Dialogue The congregation is split between retired and working members. Most are professionals like Dr. Payne but all walks of life were present. Within the AME church, there is always a strong emphasis on getting an education so one can make a difference for the community. (Here community has a broad meaning as the community of Black People,, an institutional community of members of the AME worldwide, a medium meaning as the Community where people live, and lastly as the community of Bethel the Church.) Often Church members will give money to people who are in school or struggling to pay for their children's education. The Church has a scholarship fund for children from the church community. Bethel is experiencing an intergenerational gap due to young peoples perception of it being too old school and not tech savvy. Dr. Payne feels many younger people leave Bethel to attend more media rich congregations with bands, social media ministries, and similar bells and whistles that Bethel just cannot afford or merely does not want to provide. As discussed in the history section, the AME church was founded by Northern Freedmen in Penn in the late 1700’s, so most members are from families that have been in the US since before the civil war.
Dr Payne stated that that a major cultural strength of the AME church is its belief that everything happens for a reason and also resiliency to bad things happening because of the confidence that God is working in the world and good cannot be to far away when bad things happen. We talked about whether this may have traced back to the need to be resilient as people of color with a history of slavery and he thought that was also part of this resiliency. Families come in all shapes and sizes at Bethel. The nuclear family is the preferred structure rather than an extended family structure. This has changed a lot since elder black people can now enter nursing homes or retirement communities, places that would not accept them just a couple of decades ago. There are widows, widowers, families with children, couples with grown children, single people and single moms with children. I asked what was the church’s position on pre-marital sex and children out of wedlock and he responded that yes, officially the church teaches abstinence before marriage and sex only within a marriage as the preferred thing. However, unlike some other denominations he knew of, the AME welcomes people regardless of whether they have made mistakes and single moms, people getting married with the mom pregnant, and other non-traditional arrangements are accepted if not encouraged. Dialogue
Two of the biggest parts of this culture are the importance of Community of the Church membership and Community helping out its own members in times of trouble. There seems to be much more unofficial power vested in women at Bethel AME. Men were as recently as 25 years ago the only members to be elected to stewardship, deacon, officer, and other leadership roles. The clergy was exclusively male up until about 25 years ago as well. However, Dr. Payne thought that in Today’s Bethel women hold power. Dr. Payne says there are all variations on male and female relationships in the congregation of AME, but he feels the most common is an egalitarian partnership between men and women. He credits this to the fact that many women are very educated and households with two adult professionals is probably the most common. The elderly are valued at Bethel AME, but its membership is skewed toward the elderly. He states that things are changing for the younger generation because they are not exposed to elderly family members like the adults who were exposed to elderly people at home since institutions were closed to Black People. Children are highly valued and most members take an active interest in nurturing children, whether there own children or other peoples. I have never sees children be so integrated into regular worship services and so reinforced for their efforts to be active in worship. They were so well behaved at the services and they even sange a hymn with counterpoint in it with a choir of 5 children. Pretty impressive to me.
Dialogue The definition of success is that one gets an education and does their best to be able to be a leader and help raise up the Black community in America. Well Black people are discriminated against in many ways. Black churches are as well, often being snubbed by White Churches. Their actions are hardly ever news while mainline Protestant denomination are often in the news. Dr Payne stated that every member of the congregation has had some racial slur or patronizing use of boy or girl happen to them. However, he states that he himself has been lucky as one of the first Black professors at BSU, his focus on multi-cultural education, and the need for an institutional officer to increase multi- cultural issues and competency on campus have all helped him to have a successful career. He admits, however, that it can be hard to recruit good candidates of color to the university, that tenure problems can often occur because of majority-minority culture clashes, and that, like we read in Chapter 30, there is always a method for collogues to belittle those who do work in multi-cultural research and education.
Dialogue The culture here does not support confrontation and often silence and distance are the default methods of dealing with conflict. This leads to long estrangements, repressed hostility, and often severing of long-term relationships. Dr. Payne felt this is a weakness of the Culture. Dr Payne said the least respected cultural group was the uneducated. This follows the high value members of the AME church place on education. He also wondered if non- Christians would be made very uncomfortable by the very strong Jesus focus in an AME church. Again, Education is top of the list of values, which also includes strong community support, the value and specialness of children, the fostering of strong individuals, and sharing with the church one’s own bounties.
Dialogue Bi-ethnic, Bi-Racial, and Multi-racial families are common in this community if part of that mix is Black. These relationships are viewed as acceptable.
Personal Reflections of Dr. Payne He feels that by getting his Ph.D., teaching and then leading at Ball State, he has fulfilled the cultural expectations of being expected to become educated and become a leader who in turn could be an example to black children, help black people raise themselves up, and generally use education as a tool to counter racism. He reminisced that since his parents were teachers, he was expected to succeed, he was expected to go on to do big things, he was expected to get a job which gave back to the Black community. However, this expectation of success caused him an inordinate amount of anxiety before reaching the top of where he was climbing for, namely a Ph.D degree and a leadership job!
Personal Reflections of Dr. Payne This was one of two expectations he would rather give up since it created so much pressure and stress for him growing up. The second is that now that he does have a doctoral degree and a leadership position, he is expected to know everything, never make a mistake (because his mistakes would reflect poorly on black people in general), the expectation of perfection placed on him by the community. Moreover, there are no excuses that would make mistakes, being less than perfect or similar things that would lighten his disgrace if he should make a mistake. When asked what the strengths of his culture were he said first and foremost individuality. He asserted that the reason for so many black people being originals in entertainment, politics, personalities like Prince, Dr. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, James Brown, etc. were because his culture encourages people to be a strong individual and instills in them no fear of being original.
Impact on my clinical work I think I am less nervous and afraid of African American people in general because I realized that what I thought had changed since I had been gone from the Mainland was still alive and well in African American Culture. Namely, an willingness to help and listen to white folks who are trying to help and understand the Black person’s point of view. It helped to make concrete the impact of something that happened over 200 years ago is still impacting people 200 years later. It will inform my social justice and feminist parts of who I am and who I wish to be as a counselor. It made me aware of the problems of segregation in worship that churches are still one of the last frontiers of integration. I will be willing to examine these power structures, to see these cultural divides, and to work with clients of any combination of cultures realizing that what we have in common is the platform for how we work through the issues where we are not on common ground. It greatly improved my comfort level with Black people and I no longer seem to have knee-jerk anxiety when meeting or talking with a person of color. It helped me to understand that if someone makes the first step to reach across a cultural divide, the other person will most likely reach out and give you a hand to the other side. As a counselor, we actually can use a discussion about differences with our clients to be that hand out and be mostly confident that the client will reach out and help bridge the divide. It encourages me to participate in more activities where someone else will be dominant race in attendance. This will improve my multi-cultural competency just be becoming familiar with these other cultures. It made me aware of the emphasis on education, being a leader, being perfect, and other intra-psychic dynamics my clients may have within them as Black professionals, College students, or other leaders of the Black Community.
References African Methodist Episcopal Church (2012). About Us- Our History. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from http://www.ame-church.com/about-us/history.php Bethel AME Church (2012, July 8). Welcome. Retrieved July 14, 2012, from http://bethelmuncie.com/ University Library (c.1975). Churches. Retrieved from http://cms.bsu.edu/Academics/Libraries/CollectionsAn dDept/Archives/Collections/MiddletownStudies/Exhibi ts/CelebratingLocalAfricanAmericanHistory/Churches.a spx