In the weeks following the shooting incident in Charleston where nine black churchgoers were killed, several predominately black churches have succumbed to fire. In response to the fires, congregations across the nation have collaborated in the “Rebuild the Churches Fund.” Led by Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, the group’s goal is to raise $250,000, which will be divided among four churches. Currently, the group is over halfway to its goal.
Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, said that the organization took action after finding out that there weren’t any other efforts going on to assist. The response to the fundraising effort has been monumental, attracting donations both big and small from people of all religious affiliations.
“What this really represents is a feeling across the country that we don’t just want to sit and watch this happen,” Kinman said. “This was an opportunity for us as Christ Church Cathedral to do what cathedrals do, which is to gather the people around something for the common good. The response to it has been incredible.”
So far, the funds raised will go to assist only four churches, Kinman said. If more churches are affected in the coming days, and there are extra donations, the building fund would go to support those churches as well.
Karen Anderson, pastor at Ward Chapel AME Church, and her congregation also joined the effort. For her, the collaboration is a reminder that the good in the world prevails against evil.
“I think [the initiative] it tells me that there’s a lot more good in the world than we think,” said Anderson. “The beauty of what is going on right now is being able to see it expand past just black churches.”
Many references to “black churches” have sparked debate on the significance of using the term.
“The black church in our community has always been a source of both priestly and prophetic teachings,” Anderson explained. “Priestly deals with your spirituality, but the prophetic is speaking to the conditions of society. And in the black church, we have a social justice consciousness. If you think of the roots of the black church back to the times of slavery, when slaves were not allowed to worship, they stole away to worship and serve the god that they serve.”
Anderson also explained that historically, events that led to many social changes in society originated and were carried out through black churches, one being the Civil Rights Movement.
“When you strip people of power or deny them power, we as human beings are going to find ways to get together and form centers of power,” Kinman added. “And, that’s what the black church is. For any of us, if our faith home burned down it would be traumatic. In the black community it is so much more, because it represents power that may be the only power a community feels it has.”
Some officials have been reluctant to label the arsons as hate crimes. Anderson stated that part of that is because of an underlying fear in the nation when addressing racial issues. “My personal thought is that [there is] a fear that in our nation to really address the issues of systemic racism,” she explained. “I think that’s a hard conversation to have. But, I think the official stance of not wanting to call it a hate crime opens up another bag of worms that sometimes the government’s not ready to step into.”
Whether these incidents, or any incident since events such as the death of Michael Brown, will usher in the necessary changes is unknown. However, both Anderson and Kinman agree that change begins with all races of people
“Will there be a difference this time, I say absolutely, because there’s the leadership of two groups that is different,” Kinman said. “First, is the young people and the second is women. That’s who’s leading this new civil rights movement. That’s two groups of people that are not going to let this conversation go away and not going to let us get comfortable again.”
St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.