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West Side Missionary Baptist Church to Celebrate Pastor Chambers’ Ministry

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West Side Missionary Baptist Church will celebrate Pastor Ken Chambers and First Lady Michelle Myles Chambers 33 years of ministry and 28 years as pastor and first lady.

The celebrations will take place on Sunday Oct. 13, 2019, and Sun. Oct. 20, 2019 at the church at 732 Willow St. Oakland. Both services will begin at 3:30 pm.

Special guests for those days include Rev. Jim Hopkins of Lakeshore Baptist Church; Dr. Kenneth Anderson of Chapel Baptist Church; Rev. Chauncey Lee Matthews of Corinthians Baptist Church; Rev. Harris Thomas of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Rev. Marilyn Brown of  Praise Fellowship Ministry; Rev. Mary Gilmore of Faith Chapel Ministries; Rev. Abraham Guz-man of Iglesia Apostólica de Cristo El Redentor and Rev. Kevin Young of Grace Baptist Church.

Please come and enjoy this worship experience with us.

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Bay Area

Jehovah’s Witnesses Returning to In-Person Meetings

The move back to in-person meetings coincided with two global events being held in all 120,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first was a special lecture scheduled in most congregations for April 10, 2022, entitled “Where Can You Find Real Hope?” Additionally, the annual commemoration of the death of Jesus Christ was held on April 15, 2022, the very day he sacrificed his life 1,989 years ago. Both of these gatherings were held in person at local Kingdom Halls with live speakers. No collections are ever taken.

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For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses go to jw.org.
For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses go to jw.org.

After Two Years Virtual, Congregations Are Meeting Together Again

All congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide were encouraged to resume in-person meetings last month.

The announcement to return to the Kingdom Hall was a pleasant and long-awaited surprise. “My initial thought was excitement,” said Andrena Morris, an Oakland resident who has been attending meetings for over 40 years. She treasures the love and unity felt when connecting with fellow congregants in person. Being at the meetings is vital for her. “It’s like a spiritual lifeline,” Morris said.

For most of the last two years, buildings for worship have remained closed globally due to the risks associated with meeting in person. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. also suspended their public ministry on March 20, 2020. Since that time, they have carried on their ministry through letters and phone calls while holding twice-weekly meetings in a virtual format. Average attendance at these meetings exceeded 1.5 million each week in the U.S., even though there are fewer than 1.3 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in some 13,000 congregations.

“There is a collective shout of joy among Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world right now,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “While we have prospered in many ways as individuals and congregations using technology to bring us together, nothing can adequately replace being together in person. We have longed for this moment for the better part of two years.”

The move back to in-person meetings coincided with two global events being held in all 120,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first was a special lecture scheduled in most congregations for April 10, 2022, entitled “Where Can You Find Real Hope?” Additionally, the annual commemoration of the death of Jesus Christ was held on April 15, 2022, the very day he sacrificed his life 1,989 years ago. Both of these gatherings were held in person at local Kingdom Halls with live speakers. No collections are ever taken.

“The timing of resuming in-person meetings could not be better,” said Hendriks. “Bringing everyone back together for these special events will have a powerful effect on the worldwide congregation.”

Guidelines for holding “hybrid” meetings have been sent to all congregations in the United States. Over the past six months, many Kingdom Halls have been equipped with the required technology to hold a productive meeting that allows for in-person and remote attendees, all of whom can participate in the discussions.

A pilot program was held in October and November 2021 in countries around the world to assess how this could be done most effectively. The lessons learned in these pilot meetings have helped form the plan for moving forward with reopening all Kingdom Halls, where the law permits.

“It has been heartwarming to see the peace and unity among Jehovah’s Witnesses during this very divisive time,” said Hendriks. “We know resuming in-person meetings will bring us even closer together. We’re anxious to see one another again.”

Anticipating seeing her spiritual family in person, Morris became emotional. “The biggest thing I remember as we headed to the Kingdom Hall was seeing the parking lot full of cars,” said Morris. “I could just feel my heart stir.”

As of now, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no plans to resume their public ministry, though their “alternative” ministry continues. In fact, since the start of the pandemic through November 2021 in the U.S. alone, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent more than 400 million hours in virtual Bible studies, writing letters of comfort to their neighbors and making phone calls.

They have released 77 new language translations of the Bible and held two global virtual conventions in more than 500 languages.

“No time was wasted in the past two years,” said Hendriks. “Our congregants have been busy and productive helping each other and their neighbors through this most challenging time. That’s what love and unity are all about.”

For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses go to jw.org.

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Bay Area

Berkeley School of Theology Announces Creation of the J. Alfred Smith, Sr. Endowed Chair of Theology in the Public Square

BST President Dr. James Brenneman stated “This endowed chair in Dr. Smith’s name is part of the establishment of a new Center for Truth, Racial Healing and Restorative Justice made possible through the largest lead gift ever given to BST from the good people of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto and other donors of nearly $3 million.

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Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., pastor emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church. Courtesy of Dr. Smith.
Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., pastor emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church. Courtesy of Dr. Smith.

By Rev. Dr. Martha C. Taylor

Berkeley School of Theology’s president and Board of Trustees unanimously approved the creation of the J. Alfred Smith, Sr. Endowed Chair of Theology in the Public Square on April 8, 2022.

Berkeley School of Theology (BST), located at 2606 Dwight Way in Berkeley was formerly known as the American Baptist Seminary of the West.

An endowed chair is the highest academic honor that a college, university, or seminary can bestow upon a person and/or the faculty member who will serve their professorship in the endowed chair.

For clarity, an ‘endowed chair’ is not a plaque, certificate, or money contribution to Dr. Smith, rather having a chair named in one’s honor means they have reached the highest academic honor.

Further, people are not endowed, but the position is endowed, meaning it is fully funded. An endowed chair is a tribute to the donor who establishes it and to the person whom they have chosen.

BST President Dr. James Brenneman stated “This endowed chair in Dr. Smith’s name is part of the establishment of a new Center for Truth, Racial Healing and Restorative Justice made possible through the largest lead gift ever given to BST from the good people of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto and other donors of nearly $3 million.

Dr. James Brenneman, president of the Berkeley School of Theology. Courtesy of BST.

Dr. James Brenneman, president of the Berkeley School of Theology. Courtesy of BST.

‘In the Public Square’ refers to how Smith deliberately ministered beyond the walls of the church. With deep gratitude, Brenneman noted the spiritual legacy Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. imprinted upon BST and countless students, faculty, and graduates that will live on in perpetuity because of “these generous life-changing gifts.”

The person selected to hold the chair position must be a highly qualified, full-time faculty member, with proven ability to do inter-disciplinary and contextual work, be knowledgeable of experience in anti-racism, restorative justice and more.

Dr. Smith Sr. is a BST graduate (’72) who also served for some 35 years as distinguished professor, acting dean, and now emeritus professor of Christian Ministry and Preaching when the seminary was formerly known as the American Baptist Seminary of the West (ABSW).

Dr. Smith holds a Bachelor of Science (’52), a Bachelor of Divinity (’59), two master’s degrees in Theology (’66, ’72), a doctorate in ministry (’75), and several honorary doctorates and served as the state and national president of the Progressive Baptist Convention.

He was a national leader in the Civil Rights Movement with a lifetime of doing theology in the public square, public advocacy at City Hall. He is the author of 16 books, has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Duke, Morehouse, and Howard, and other esteemed institutions. He has testified against apartheid before the United Nations, preached to thousands from Seoul, Korea, to Sierra Leone (Africa) to China and beyond.

He served 38 years as Senior Pastor, now emeritus, of the historic Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, CA.

I had the honor of serving as the Pastoral Administrative Assistant to Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. for 10 years. On occasion I assisted him in teaching at the seminary, providing me with an “insider’s look” at his pastoral and academic works and responsibilities.

He introduced hundreds of seminary students to theological training, the art of preaching, African American Spirituality and the deep meaning of Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” and much more.

‘Theology in the Public Square’ is how Dr. Smith engaged his ministry to communities. We are familiar with the phrase ‘Thy will be done on Earth.’ Dr. Smith ‘majored’ in the will of Jesus Christ for his concern for the well-being of society on earth.

Like the ministry of Jesus who ‘majored’ in his ministry beyond the walls of the synagogue, Dr. Smith Sr. preached, prophesized, pastored, taught, and ministered beyond the walls of the church.

Dr. Smith Sr. was passionate about helping others understand the meaning of his famous phrase, “In order to get to the sweet by and by, you must deal with the nasty now and now.”

In other words, theology in the public square is about addressing the needs of people who are hurting economically, who are disenfranchised, and victims of an unjust society.

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Black History

OP-ED: New Study Brings Black Catholics into Forefront

Pew’s 2021 study reports that 46% of Black young adults in Generation Z (ages 18-23 at the time of the survey) seldom or never attend religious services. Organized religion — across denominations — ignores this finding at its peril. The sex abuse crisis has already damaged the church’s credibility across generations. This reality coupled with Pew’s finding that close to half of all young Black American adults rarely or never attend religious services should be a warning to Church leaders that concrete action must be taken now.

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Members of the Voice of Praise Ensemble sing during Mass Nov. 17, 2019, at St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Brooklyn, New York, in celebration of November as National Black Catholic History Month. (CNS/The Tablet/Andrew Pugliese).
Members of the Voice of Praise Ensemble sing during Mass Nov. 17, 2019, at St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Brooklyn, New York, in celebration of November as National Black Catholic History Month. (CNS/The Tablet/Andrew Pugliese).

By Nia Tia Noelle Pratt

My entire 20-year career has been about ending the erasure of Black Catholics from academic and public discourse.

This is one of the reasons I began the #BlackCatholicsSyllabus and articulated from the outset that the point of the syllabus is to prioritize the voices of Black Catholics in the creation of our own narrative. It’s also why this week’s Pew Research Center report, “Black Catholics in America” is the data I dreamed of having as an undergraduate and graduate student. I also dreamed of having a report like this in the years since I finished graduate school.

Much of my efforts have focused on ending erasure within the Catholic sphere. However, Black Catholics are not just erased from Catholic narratives — they are also erased from discourse on the Black church as well.

This dual erasure is why Pew Research Center’s report is so important. Along with last year’s “Faith Among Black Americans,” this week’s survey on Black Catholics is urgently needed. Both are poised to be regarded as landmark studies.

“Black Catholics in America,” published on March 15, examines Black Catholics within a larger Catholic contest and within the context of “Faith Among Black Americans.”

The new study tells us that 6% of Black Americans are Catholics. While this percentage is admittedly small, it still means that there are nearly 3 million Black Catholics in the U.S.

Millions of people must be included in the conversation about what it means to be Catholic in our country if the conversation is going to be comprehensive. Furthermore, we learn from this study that 20% of Black Americans born in sub-Saharan Africa and 15% of Caribbean-born Black Americans identify as Catholic while only 5% of U.S.-born Black Americans identify as Catholic.

“These numbers tell us that Black Catholics in the United States are not a monolith. These drastically different numbers deserve further consideration by scholars and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as dioceses and parishes. Church leaders must keep this in mind in ministering to Black Catholics and creating pastoral plans. Similarly, scholars must incorporate this knowledge into their research.

I was not surprised to learn from the full report that only 17% of Black Catholics attend a predominantly Black church and a comparable 18% of Black Catholics report a combination of call-and-response, and other expressive forms of worship during Mass. Part of my research involves examining liturgy as a form of identity work where I’ve discussed just this type of worship experience in detail.

I’ve discussed at length how African American Catholics incorporate music, preaching and Church aesthetics into liturgy in order to create a unique identity as African Americans and as Catholics.

Only 41% of Black Catholics report having heard a homily on race in the 12 months prior to completing the survey and only 31% reported hearing a homily on political engagement in the same time period. The reckoning around systemic racism that we have seen over the last year has demonstrated that it is long past time for the church to regard racism as a pro-life issue.

For this reason, these findings are also a call to action. A thunderous 77% of Black Catholics said that “opposition to racism is essential to what being Christian means to them.”

Many Black Catholics are not getting a message at Mass that they identify as something essential to being a Christian.

This week’s report also tells us that 46% of Black adults who were raised Catholic no longer identify as such. The aforementioned disconnect between the themes Black Catholics hear about at Mass and what they consider essential to being a Christian provides some insight as to why so many Black Catholics leave the church. The results for young adults only exacerbate this situation.

Pew’s 2021 study reports that 46% of Black young adults in Generation Z (ages 18-23 at the time of the survey) seldom or never attend religious services. Organized religion — across denominations — ignores this finding at its peril. The sex abuse crisis has already damaged the church’s credibility across generations. This reality coupled with Pew’s finding that close to half of all young Black American adults rarely or never attend religious services should be a warning to Church leaders that concrete action must be taken now.

Since the summer of 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference has hosted “Journeying Together” as an ongoing series of events focused on young adults and those who minister to young adults. While this is a concrete action directed at young adults, it reaches those who are already actively engaged in the church. Evangelization must be directed at those young adults who are not, or are only minimally, engaged. Refusing to critically engage this group will not bode well for the sustainability of parishes and schools in the decades to come.

Tia Noelle Pratt is director of mission engagement and strategic initiatives and courtesy assistant professor of sociology at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

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