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Asking the Clergy: How does your congregation honor Black History Month?

The Rev. Monte Malik Chandler of Assembly of

The Rev. Monte Malik Chandler of Assembly of Prayer Baptist Church, the Rev. Adrienne Brewington of United Methodist Church of Babylon, and the Rev. Gregory Leonard of the Bethel AME Church in Setauket. Credit: Sabrina Thompson; Adrienne Brewington; Newsday / John Paraskevas

In the final week of Black History Month, congregations across Long Island continue to celebrate the African American experience in song, readings and dialogue. This week’s clergy also discuss how they will honor black history throughout the year.

The Rev. Adrienne Brewington

United Methodist Church of Babylon

We have a predominantly white congregation, which I became pastor of less than a year ago. In January, leading up to Black History Month, I spoke from the pulpit about my experience growing up during the Civil Rights Era in predominantly African American Lakeview and the impact that had on my life. I talked about how those experiences, as I look back on them, show me that God is active in my life and is leading me to the place I am now.

On Feb. 8, we followed up by inviting community members to an African American History Month read-in at the church fellowship hall. About half of the 30 people who attended shared readings, poetry or songs from people of African descent in the United States. Participants wrote and read brief biographies of the poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, of abolitionist Harriet Tubman and of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to U.S. Congress. One of our members is from a town upstate that was a stop on the Underground Railroad, so he spoke about that. A Caribbean American woman from another church sang an African American spiritual and a Caribbean American song. I recited James Weldon Johnson’s poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and someone else read Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Am America.” The next day in church, people were buzzing about the read-in and talking about how lovely it was and how grateful they were to have the opportunity to share.

The Rev. Monte Malik Chandler

Senior pastor, Assembly of Prayer Baptist Church, Roslyn Heights

We celebrate black history year-round because we are unapologetically Christian and unashamedly African American. We are clear that black people have a duty to share our history with each generation, reminding us all that we come from a mighty people who were chosen of God through God’s son, Jesus the Christ.

To that end, the congregation celebrates the milestones and great accomplishments of our past. We recognize that the pyramids and the White House were built by our ancestors. We tearfully remember the suffering of our forefathers and mothers, but we are not ashamed, for it is the white slaveholders and their progeny whose hands are soiled with the blood of our ancestors that not even a multitude of oceans can wash away.

We look back and think critically of how our people survived notwithstanding vicious, systemic racism. We do not pray to a white Jesus. Rather, we commune with the ancestors. We sing songs of Zion to affirm that God is a God of love, justice and mercy.

Black History Month is a time to commit ourselves to one another as brothers and sisters who share a history and legacy. We are not monolithic, but our destination and goals are the same: the liberation and salvation of our people — God’s people. We challenge each other to promote and patronize black businesses, register our people to vote, and strategize plans for the wealth and prosperity for generations to come. We are fully aware of the numerous challenges ahead that are not simply remedied by singing and praying. No — these challenges demand faith and works, compassion and capital, so we take this time to prepare our children, arming ourselves with the knowledge and wisdom of God, knowing that we have come this far by faith.

The Rev. Gregory L. Leonard

Pastor, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Setauket

Our church, which is more than 170 years old and in a historic part of Setauket, is itself part of African American history. Every other weekend in February, we have Black History Month events that we either lead or support.

We have had a discussion of reparations for the descendants of enslaved people at an event co-sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook. In early February, I and other church members participated in the Brookhaven Township Black History Month celebration in Town Hall, during which youths from Baptist, AME and AME Zion churches were recognized, and some of these students received scholarships.

On Feb. 23, the morning worship is being sung by the men’s choir. And after services we have a Heritage Dinner, for which the mothers of the church community bring their best dishes and we sit down in fellowship together.

On Feb. 28, in the sanctuary we will host a concert of spiritual music performed by community members. In addition at Sunday services, we have a Black History Moment in which congregants come from the pews to share information about African American historic personalities such as Carter G. Woodson, a writer and historian known as the Father of Black History, or the statesman, orator, writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the contributions they made to black history. It’s something that especially young people can learn and benefit from, both educationally and spiritually.

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