Black churches link together for the Gospel
By Phil Haslanger
Collaboration Project Story Team
Nearly 20 churches stretching across Dane County have found ways to knit their work together, even though they come from distinct denominations and varied understandings of Christian beliefs. Now they are about to take a few more steps forward.
The African-American Council of Churches chose new leaders over the past few months and that, in turn, has brought new energy to their work to preach the Gospel and change lives.
“Even with differences, even with different doctrinal approaches, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was still being preached and lives were still being transformed,” explained Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen, the pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Churchin Madison and the new president of the group.
(The other leaders are the vice president, Rev. Karla Garcia of S.S. Morris African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the treasurer, Rev. Larry Jackson of True Worshippers Community Church.)
The council has roots that go back to the early 2000s when Rev. David Smith began to bring predominantly African American congregations together to work on common themes and for their pastors to support each other. Bishop Harold Rayford, then pastor of The Faith Place in Sun Prairie, took the leadership about a half dozen years ago, but just moved to a new pastorate in Columbus, Ohio.
Allen does not minimize the challenges of connecting these varied congregations. He is only one of two full-time pastors at African-American churches in Dane County. (Rev. Alex Gee at Fountain of Life is the other.) So getting people together for meetings is a challenge. Churches have different organizational structures - some locally controlled, some governed by regional or national bodies. They have different ways of describing who God is, how baptism is done, what role the Holy Spirit plays in their lives.
Still, said Allen, “One thing that we can stand on for sure is this: Jesus is Christ. He’s the savior of the world. We all stand on the Gospel truth that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone. The Gospel is what transforms.”
That is his starting point for his work at Mt. Zion and his hopes for the African American Council of Churches.
There is plenty of groundwork that has already been laid for the churches to collaborate. Each Lent, services rotate each week on Wednesday nights among the churches with pastors trading pulpits to preach. Two years ago, they joined together for an outdoor worship service in the Allied Drive neighborhood called “Praise in the Park.” They partner with the Urban League and NAACP in get-out-the-vote work. They work with community groups to help reduce infant mortality. They had a seat on the United Way’s Special Community/Police Task Force. And they often respond as an organization to racial incidents in the community.
Allen himself has created some templates for collaborations with community groups in the congregation he serves at Mt. Zion. One Sunday, a speaker from Domestic Abuse Intervention Services came in to talk about domestic violence. During the month of July, there was a major focus on mental health, working with a variety of community agencies.
These are all important, Allen said, but at the root of his ministry and what he sees for the African American Council of Churches is the Gospel. “We are trying to build the community of churches in the community,” he explained. “Your leading priority must be Christ-centered. We are going to have a collective approach to things that happen, spiritually with the Gospel of Christ and then also physically, mentally, where we focus on the whole being.”
For Allen, this is all tied together by a commitment to find ways to join congregations and people together.
“We are just a group of churches that are trying to worship together and work together to do the will of God,” he concluded. “If we all work together, we can get so much more done than being separated. There is a lot of stuff that separate us, but there is also a lot that brings us together. Ultimately being the church, the thing that brings us together is Christ himself. That connects us as a body of believers.”
(For more information, you can contact Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen by email - firstname.lastname@example.org.)