The African American presence in the PCA is gaining momentum as a growing group of leaders plant new churches and others pursue seminary education.
Working Together to Transform North America
In 1983, when the Delmarva Presbytery (now divided into Potomac and Chesapeake presbyteries) recognized the need for a seminary in the Washington/ Baltimore area, they established one. Their chief goal: to provide graduate theological education in the reformed tradition, as well as practical ministry experience, expressly for those unable to give up full-time employment to pursue a seminary degree. Classes were offered evenings and weekends - a unique concept for seminary education in the 80s. To hold costs to a minimum, there was no investment in facilities - classes were taught in area churches. And rather than employing full-time professors, the presbytery assembled an adjunct faculty of PCA pastors. The new institution was named Chesapeake Theological Seminary.
American pastors in the PCA. "The biggest hurdle," he says, "is finding African American church planters who are reformed."
At 34, while pursuing a career at IBM, a manager led Wy to Christ and to reformed theology. A few years later, sensing a call to ministry, he left IBM and enrolled at Chesapeake. About the same time, he moved to the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, and joined the staff at New Song Community Church, an interracial congregation. After graduation in 1995, he was called to serve as New Song's co-pastor with Stephen Smallman, Jr.
Among other African American PCA pastors who earned seminary degrees at Chesapeake are Thurman Williams, current leader for New Song; Lance Lewis, who is planting Christ Liberation Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Kevin Smith, church planter for Mt. Zion Covenant in Bowie, Maryland, an upscale suburban community nine miles from Washington, DC. "Bowie is predominantly white," Kevin explains, "but our county, Prince Georges, is predominantly African American, including a large number who have the highest incomes in the nation among African Americans.
While the majority of Mt. Zionís congregation is African
American, there are some Latinos and Jamaicans, and a dozen or so Anglo
college students from the University of Maryland, members of
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
When it comes to practical experience, graduates of
Chesapeake (now named Chesapeake Reformed Theological Seminary) have
high praise for the institutionís emphasis on practical experience, as
well as the quality of classroom education. They point out that every
course involved a hands-on component in a local church and that all
students completed an internship before graduation. Thurman Williams is
reminded of an often repeated statement by Bob Lynn, former dean and
Thurmanís advisor, ďAll good theology is practical theology.Ē
By the late 90s, Chesapeakeís enrollment included about 100
students, the majority first-generation Koreans who were taught in the
Korean language. When a change in leadership took place in 1999, the
seminary began teaching almost exclusively in the Korean language.
English-speaking students had the option of transferring to RTS in
Washington/Baltimore, which began operating about the same time.
Today, RTS has a diverse enrollment in that location of about 250 students representing different denominations ó some earning degrees in preparation for full-time ministry and others taking selected courses. The seminaryís main campus is in Jackson, Mississippi; additional campuses are in Orlando, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Atlanta, Georgia.
African American PCA leaders are planting new chuches and serving a diversity of cultures in urban and suburban settings
Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, is the
national seminary of the PCA and is clearly committed to educating
African Americans, as well as others of non-Anglo origin. In fact, six
of the men mentioned in this issue of Multiply earned degrees at
Covenant, including Craig Garriot, Dale Weldon, Howard Brown, Giorgio
Hiatt, Adiel lins Araujo, and Mike Higgins. Whatís more, Wy Plummer is
a current member of Covenantís Advisory Board and is, therefore, in an
excellent position to recruit and encourage African Americans called by
God to come into the PCA as pastors.
Covenant graduate Howard Brown in Charlotte, North Carolina, exemplifies a number of new African American leaders in the PCA. Howard is church planter for Christ Central, a multiethnic church in an urban location. A daughter church of Uptown Christ Covenant, the congregation began public worship earlier this year. The staff is already multiethnic: Giorgio Hiatt, associate pastor, is of Italian and Hawaiian descent, and Adiel lins Araujo, administrative assistant, is Brazilian. Seeking to minister to an eclectic community of young urbanites, the church meets in an area that includes many middle-class residents, as well as people of lower income.
Like other PCA churches led by African Americans, Christ Central serves people of varied cultures and demographics. For instance, in Homewood, Alabama, church planter Joel Miller started Providence Presbyterian last fall with the aim of developing a transcultural church embracing a variety of cultures and backgrounds. The congregation is composed of African Americans, Anglos, and Asians.
Although he has many years of ministry experience, Raymond has never before planted a church. He sensed the Lord leading him to start this new work while serving as national director for Urban Family Ministry, an outreach of Campus Crusade for Christ. He was introduced to the PCA through his association with Redemption Fellowship, a mostly African American congregation in nearby Fayetteville.
Without a doubt, starting PCA churches to reach people of diverse ethnic groups and developing academic sources to serve a multicultural population represents an extraordinary charge. But significant progress has been made and the momentum will grow in the years to come. In time, the PCA will more clearly reflect "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."
Pulling Double Duty: When PCA Reserve Army chaplain (LTC) Mike Higgins was called to report for active duty at Fort MacPherson in metro Atlanta, he didn't even have to leave home. So there was no need to give up his pastorate at Redemption Fellowship in Fayetteville, Georgia. And because Fort MacPherson is Forces Command Headquarters, there there was little chance of immediate deployment. The job of Forces Command (FORSCOM in Army lingo) is to support the troops from the states. Mike was mobilized in support of Operation Noble Eagle, which is concerned with homeland defense and
formed as a result of 9/11.
When Mike graduated from Missouri University, he was commissioned as an officer and began an eleven-year career in the active Army as a field artillery officer. In his early 20s, he received the Lord, and was later called to ministry.
The concept of online study and distance education is a growing trend at reformed seminaries today. And, certainly, it has become a critical option for training future pastors, especially those of diverse ethnic groups, many of whom must continue full-time employment and cannot move away for on-campus study. Even more important, particularly when these men are already involved in God's work, it's important to maintain continuity with their community and culture while in training.