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INSIDE STORY: A cappella at the Apollo

Harlem minister sees need to bring races together.

NEW YORK — The venue proved spectacular, the crowd enthusiastic.
In most ways, organizers of the recent 28th annual Northeastern Lectureship, sponsored by the Harlem Church of Christ, couldn’t help but be thrilled.
Just as Harlem minister Olu Shabazz hoped, bringing the lectureship to the Apollo Theater heightened interest and drew the largest crowd in years (see related news story, Page 1).
But Shabazz acknowledged that the lectureship failed to attract a racially diverse crowd.
In promoting the event, organizers had voiced a desire for members of the body of Christ of “all races, cultures and regions to come together as living examples that there is but one Lord, one faith and one baptism.”
That didn’t exactly happen.
Oh, there were a few white souls — myself included — scattered among the 1,100 men, women and children who gathered at the famous hall for Sunday worship.
But mostly, black brethren filled the theater that morning. Brethren with some of the most incredible singing voices I’ve ever heard. And brethren who were quick to welcome me and thank The Christian Chronicle for deeming the Apollo event worthy of news coverage.
But the question persists: Why so few white faces in the crowd?
Perhaps the reason is as simple as this: Black and white churches tend to operate in parallel universes — with their own brotherhood events, their own favorite lectureship speakers and singing groups, even their own styles of worship.
Or maybe it goes deeper than that.
“I think the problem of racism is a sin sickness throughout the Church of Christ, and I believe that it exists on both sides of the fence,” Shabazz told me.
From the Apollo stage that morning, Shabazz refused to ignore the issue, telling the crowd that God is neither black nor white.
“It is time for us to break down the walls between Caucasians and African-Americans,” he said.
To that end, the Harlem church already has started making plans to host the 2011 Northeastern Lectureship in the 5,600-seat WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Two years from now, Shabazz said, he hopes that white and black Christians — not to mention brown — can gather in a mass worship assembly at the famous arena in the heart of New York City.
Shabazz, a native of Pontiac, Mich., traces his passion for bringing together Christians of all races to his 11 years as minister of the Boulevard church in Memphis, Tenn.
In the mid-1980s, that black congregation bought the old Whitehaven church building, as that predominantly white congregation prepared to move to suburban Southaven, Miss., where it became the Goodman Oaks church.
But for more than a year, as the white church built its new building, the two congregations worshiped together — and “without a glitch,” Shabazz said.
“We decided we wanted to share that success,” he recalled.
As a result, more than 5,000 Church of Christ members — white and black — from all over Memphis gathered for a joint worship service at the Mid-South Coliseum with the theme “Bind Us Together,” he said.
It’s the same theme that Shabazz envisions for the Madison Square Garden event.
“We can maybe spend a couple of days together, and that will be a good time maybe to ask God’s forgiveness and intervention and help,” Shabazz said of the 2011 lectureship. “So we can stop having black lectureships and white lectureships. Maybe we can start something that will lead us on a road to be what God wants us to be.”
Maybe so.
Isn’t it past time to break down those walls?


Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

  • Feedback
    I AM A 65 YEAR OLD PREACHER OF THE GOSPEL, AND HAVE HAD A VISION TO BRING TOGETHER ALL RACES, ESPECIALLY BLACK AND WHITE. WE ARE ONE IN CHRIST AND MUST SEE AND ACKNOWLEDGE THIS IN ORDER TO EXPRESS THE ONENESS AND LOVE OF CHRIST. DO YOU HAVE ANY INPUT IN HOW TO ACCOMPLISH THIS.
    NELSON BRIGMON
    peace church , sherman, tx
    sherman, texas
    usa
    October, 15 2012

    I think that this is long overdue. I been to both white and black churches of christ and even though the style of worship is different, but as long as racism continues on, Christians will continue to do what they do.
    Hector Rivera
    Liberty City Church of Christ
    Miami, Florida
    United States
    October, 24 2009

    Is there a support group for mothers whose hearts are broken by adult children who have turned their backs on God as well as family? I’m talking about the ones who sever the family ties in hate – for whatever reason – you never hear from them again or if you do, it’s pretty ugly. They were baptisted members – they attended church services and functions with their families. Now they’re gone. No telephone calls, no emails, no contact with any other family members. These are NOT missing children. They are CHOOSING to do this. How do you get beyond this pain?
    Dana Hill
    Cordova Church of Christ
    Pollock Pines, CA
    USA
    October, 21 2009

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