Friday, March 12, 2004

Author says start singing - and diversify the church

By Valerie Christopher
Enquirer contributor

FINNEYTOWN - When it comes to diversifying the Catholic Church, America needs to start singing.

Specifically, black spirituals.

That's what Father Joseph Brown, a Jesuit author and head of the Black American Studies Program at Southern Illinois University, told an audience of about 85 people during a speech titled, "To Sit at the Welcome Table: Black Catholics and the Future of the Church," Tuesday night at St. Xavier High School.

"If you want to diversify your community, hire yourself a black choir director," Brown said. "People will come to your church because he's singing right.

"You don't need to be black to sing, 'Precious Lord, take my hand,'" he said. "You just need to be suffering."

Brown said there are so many different interpretations of black spirituals that one must stick with them until their meaning is clear. He believes that singing spirituals in all churches will save the country because it "brought us out of slavery to freedom."

"If you never have black people in your church," he said, "at least you'll have black presence in your prayers."

Brown is author of A Retreat With Thea Bowman and Bede Abram: Leaning on the Word (St. Anthony Messenger Press; 1997) and To Stand on the Rock: Meditations on Black Identity (Orbis Books; 1998).

According to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, African-Americans make up 8 percent of Greater Cincinnati Catholics and 11 percent of the half-million Catholics in the 19-county region.

Brown doesn't believe there is any true diversity in the Catholic Church in this country because "we are so proud of segregating culture."

"Walk into the church like it's yours, and sit at the welcome table and demand equality," he urged his audience.

Catholic attendee Anne Thomas of Price Hill applauded Brown's message, but questioned whether anyone will take heed.

"His message is invigorating because he challenges those who would like to think that things are going along fine," Thomas said. "It's a speech that is designed to unsettle the complacent."

Father Brown's lecture was the ninth installment of St. Xavier's Diversity Lecture Series, which began in 2001.


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