Home News ‘Blessing of Elders’ lauds 7 Black Christian luminaries at Museum of the Bible gala

‘Blessing of Elders’ lauds 7 Black Christian luminaries at Museum of the Bible gala

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WASHINGTON (RNS) — Well-known names from the world of gospel music and the Black church gathered at the Museum of the Bible to hail the contributions of African American churches and to call for continued efforts toward building unity and bridging divides.

The “Blessing of the Elders,” an awards celebration held Thursday (June 23) just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, specifically honored seven leaders known for their contributions in megachurches, denominational leadership, civil rights, music and religious broadcasting.

The Rev. A.R. Bernard, an honoree and a Brooklyn, New York, pastor, described the Black church, in its varied expressions, as a repository of Black culture in America.

“Embracing Christianity, Blacks didn’t seek to imitate white Christianity — oh no, instead we created a parallel religious culture, our own brand of Christianity with our own hymns, music, style of worship, much influenced by the challenge of slavery,” Bernard said in the museum’s World Stage Theater.

Honorees Tony Evans, left, and John Perkins pose together ahead of the “Blessing of the Elders” awards ceremony at the Museum of the Bible, Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Over the course of the more than three-hour ceremony, coming together and overcoming were recurrent themes.

“The only way we can go forward now is with ‘love one another,’” said honoree John Perkins, a civil rights veteran and reconciliation advocate, quoting the New Testament book of 1 John and elevating the church as a whole over congregations attended by Black or white people. “‘He that loves knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God.’”

North Carolina pastor Shirley Caesar, an honoree known for her award-winning gospel singing, spoke of worshipping in the “red church,” based on the sacrifice of Jesus, rather than at a Black church or a white church.

And Dallas pastor Tony Evans also spoke of a unified church, saying, “It’s time to go public as the Black church and white church of the kingdom of God, the glory of God and the advancement of his rule in history. It’s time for the church to lead the way.”

Denzel Washington, right, places a medal on honoree Pastor A.R. Bernard during the “Blessing of the Elders” awards ceremony at the Museum of the Bible, Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Between prayers and speeches, a range of Black church music was featured, including from co-hosts BeBe Winans and Erica Campbell — who also harmonized a bit of “Amazing Grace” while awaiting a working teleprompter. Wintley Phipps, Pastor Marvin Winans, Lecrae, the Clark Sisters, Tramaine Hawkins, Fred Hammond and Anthony Brown & group therAPy also performed.

The Blessing of the Elders initiative, which thus far has included a steering committee and been supported by the Museum of the Bible and partnering foundations, individuals and corporate sponsors, is now a not-for-profit corporation that Bernard will chair. In an interview before the gala, he said its next steps could include a documentary, an exhibit or a curriculum about the history of the Black church that would be particularly intended for white churches “to walk a mile in our shoes.”

Steve Green, board chair and founder of the museum, said in a separate interview that a temporary exhibit centered on the Black church — delving more into the subject than what is already featured in its Bible in America permanent exhibit — is a possibility at his facility.

“To be able to do a deep dive within the Black community and the Black church is an exciting opportunity for us to consider because there is a story to be told,” he said.

Musician Fred Hammond performs at the Museum of the Bible, Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The evening ended with a blessing of the celebrated elders, but Bishop T.D. Jakes, another honoree, made it clear the concluding prayer should not be solely for the seven people with bios in the program but rather all those who gathered to laud them.

“Perhaps the greatest elders are not on this stage; perhaps the greatest elders are you,” he said. “So if we bless the elders and exclude you from the blessing, we will have missed the opportunity of God’s attention. Because the future is in your hands and your mouth. We’ve all spoken. The next message is on you.”

RELATED: Henry Louis Gates’ new book and TV series distills centuries of Black church history

Source : ReligionNews

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