By Cheryl Magness
For over 40 years in the United States, February has been designated as Black or African-American History Month. For over 140 years, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has been involved in black ministry.
Reflecting on both milestones, the Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray, director of LCMS Black Ministry, says there is still much work to be done:
“Sometimes people ask me [about Black Ministry], ‘Why do we need that? Why are we segregating ourselves?’
“If you look at our church body, historically it is a German Lutheran church body. … [but] there is a growing population of ethnic minorities in the United States … [and] a great need for specifically targeting those groups so that we can bring more people into the Kingdom.”
Today there are approximately 100 predominantly black congregations in the LCMS and 300 congregations involved in black ministry. Of the roughly 5 percent of those in the LCMS who are ethnic minorities, about 3 percent, or 70,000, are black.
According to the LCMS Black Ministry website, ministry efforts are focused on providing “encouragement, assistance, advocacy and influence to LCMS districts, congregations and schools for synodwide engagement in ministry to people of African-American descent and other ethnic cultures. The ministry promotes faithfulness to theology that is contextually holistic, touching lives with the Gospel through mercy care in the context of daily experiences.”
The last few years have been busy ones for LCMS Black Ministry. In 2014, about six months after Gray was called to the position of director, the Black Ministry Family Convocation was held in Kansas City, Mo., under the theme “Worship, Word, Witness.” Eighty congregations were represented. Three years later, in Birmingham, Ala., under the theme “All for Jesus: Know Him, Confess Him, Serve Him,” there were 100 congregations represented.
In 2015, “The First Rosa,” an LCMS-produced film about Lutheran educator and missionary Dr. Rosa J. Young, was completed and previewed in 50 LCMS congregations, schools, districts and universities. The film was released on DVD in 2016. Young taught over 2,000 students and was instrumental in the founding of the Alabama Lutheran Academy and College in Selma, Ala., now Concordia College Alabama.
Young’s legacy is now the jumping-off point for a new vision for LCMS Black Ministry: the establishment of a network of Rosa J. Young academies throughout the United States. The initiative was approved at the 2016 Synod convention.
Gray says the academies “will help us to go into some of these urban, inner-city and rural communities to start schools … to be an outreach to those families.” He would like to see one academy per year added over the next 10 years, for a total of 10 by 2027, the 150th anniversary of LCMS Black Ministry.
Reflecting on the recently celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Gray says that King was and still is one of his personal heroes: “I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954, right when he arrived in town. I lived probably only 6 miles from the church he pastored on Dexter Avenue.”
Asked how the work and legacy of King applies to the mission of LCMS Black Ministry, Gray replies: “Dr. King was instrumental to my understanding of how we should live as brothers and sisters in the world … how to care for and love people.
“Dr. King and the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement demonstrated how to look beyond color and race to see God’s love and compassion for all people through the work of the Gospel of Christ. … Black Ministry has always been inclusive in its mission and ministry. Dr. King desired to see all humanity as having ‘inalienable’ or natural rights from God for humanity, in and outside of the Church.”
Race relations in the country remain a concern to Gray. He notes the Synod’s work in establishing the Lutheran Hope Center in Ferguson, Mo., along with a webpage on racism. Regarding what churches can do to make a difference, Gray says: “If race relations are going to improve, the Church has to live up to the mandate that Christ gave in Matthew 28 … to disciple all nations.
“I like what Jeremiah says: The people of God must go into these communities and plant themselves, doing the things they need to do to survive. And as they survive, they help their neighbors to survive. If America is going to continue to be, as Ronald Reagan said, the ‘light on the hill,’ the Church has to be the catalyst for sharing that light to the world. The Church must never be fearful of any individuals, because Jesus died for all people.”
More information about LCMS Black Ministry is available at lcms.org/black-ministry. To read more about the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray, see the February issue of The Lutheran Witness.
Cheryl Magness (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of Reporter Online and staff writer for LCMS Communications.
Posted Feb. 5, 2018