Hundreds of well wishers, church members, elected officials and business persons gathered at the first African Baptist Church to attend the Investiture Service of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity Sunday.
The audience consisted of a who’s who of Philadelphia as the most influential people in the city gathered to show support for The Black Clergy and its president, the Rev. Terrence D. Griffith.
The service was celebratory with special performances by the Lincoln University Choir, whose selections moved the audience to their feet with thunderous applause. Various speakers kept the audience laughing during their presentations.
But the Investiture Service, while celebratory and festive, was also one where the organizers of the event and speakers take the opportunity to address serious social concerns in the African-American community.
“Thank God for February because February gives us a license to be Black when we can’t be Black anytime else,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Louis Felton of Mount Airy Church of God In Christ, whose quip was greeted with laughter.
Felton said that today’s church lacked prophetic voices.
“There are so few prophets today that the church has almost become a non-prophet organization,” said Felton. “Thanks to First African Methodist Church, we are not without a prophetic voice in the community.”
The Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA and Pastor of White Rock Baptist Church gave the charge to the members of the Black Clergy and reminded them of their responsibilities and duties.
“Nobody stands by him or herself, our members are part of a larger Unit,” said Shaw during his charge to the clergy. Shaw warned the clergy’s officers to not guard against individualism and referred to history when divide and conquer techniques were employed to destroy progressive organizations.
“People sought promise and lost its sense of purpose and the organization began to lose its power. I charge you to fulfill the responsibilities as an organism that has a clear purpose and that purpose is not related to politicians,” said Shaw.
Shaw said the duties of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia was not simply to Blacks but to help white clergy to become sensitive to issues of the faith.
“Keep a sense of why you are there, you are there for the people and remember the source of your power,” admonished Shaw. “Your power is in the Holy Spirit so that you live with a sense of the divine and remember the power that is in you.”
The Rev. Jay Broadnax, 1st vice president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia introduced the Griffith and described him as a soldier.
“Rev. Griffith recognizes that he has been commissioned, not by a superior officer, not by a political power and not even by a denominational power structure,” said Broadnax. “Rev. Griffith is a soldier of righteousness and it is clear that he has been sent to stand up for the people by God.”
“This,” said Broadnax, “sometimes causes him to clash with the status quo.”
Upon taking the podium, Griffith lived up to this description by candidly addressing some of the concerns facing the African-American community including crime, gun control and economic instability. Griffith charged the responsibilities to the community to those living in the community.
Griffith spoke about Naila Robinson, the 5-year-old who was abducted from Bryant Elementary School. Police are still searching for her kidnappers.
“We also contributed to the award money,” he said. “We are adamant that we cannot continue to harbor and protect criminals in our community anymore. Somebody knows something and that somebody must turn these folks in and we pray that the cops get those folks before the community does.”
Griffith went on to mention the achievements of the Black Clergy which included partnering with the NAACP to help delay the implantation of the voter ID law, assisting a local school purchase uniforms for their students, assisting a promising student with college tuition, among other actions taken by the Clergy.
Griffith also addressed the issue of economic empowerment of the communities stating that those who do business in our communities must support the communities in which they do business.
“Our communities must not be used to make others rich. This means that there is a need for blacks to invest in our neighborhoods providing quality goods and services to our communities,” said Griffith.
He added that African-Americans will never receive parity as long as they remain consumers of the products and services produced by others as opposed to producing themselves the products and services they consume.
“Blacks will never attain parity until we find a way to support each other. The other man’s ice is not colder than ours,” said Griffith.
Quality education was essential to the security and well-being of the city, said Griffith during his address.
“We must put aside personal interest realizing that our city will go to hell unless we put our children first.”
Griffith said the Black Clergy of Philadelphia was sometimes seen as a paper tiger. because many African-American communities focus their objectives on what they can personally benefit from as individuals and not as collective body.
“It is this attitude which has pigeonholed us, we are so pigeonholed that it is impossible to around a central issue, theme or idea. We are so pigeon holed that everyone who has an idea wants to start a new group,” said Griffith.
Despite the existence of hundreds of community organizations, conferences of clergy and advocacy groups, African Americans still find themselves lagging behind because of their focus on individualism, he said.
“What is amazing is that other ethnic groups are moving ahead with jet-like speed,” said Griffith. “We have been here long enough but other folks have come and they have attained parity; we are marking time and Italians have gained parity; we are marking time and Asians are attaining parity; we are marking time and Dominicans have come to America attained parity.”
He added that many Black folks don’t get it because they keep asking the same question: “What’s in it for me?”