African-American Ministry Committee Reviews Survey Results

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — The findings of a survey known as Project Listen 2010 were the focus of last month’s meeting of the HNP African-American Ministry Committee.

Six members of the committee, under the direction of chair David Hyman, OFM, met Sept. 23 in the Provincial Office. They were Teresa Belthrop-Hairston of Greensboro, N.C., John Frambes, OFM, of Wilmington, Del., Neil O’Connell, OFM, Steven Pavignano, OFM, andBenedict Taylor, OFM, of New York, and Paul Williams, OFM, of Columbia, S.C.

Survey Results 
Through a description of the survey by Belthrop-Hairston, who held conversations earlier this year with Black parishioners of Holy Name Province churches, the committee members learned how “people of color are faring in the pews,” David said.

“Our goal, David said, was to get answers to questions such as “Are they happy with us? Could we friars serve them in better ways? Are there methods that we haven’t thought of? Do they have challenges to share? Does everyone feel he/she has a place on the table?”

“Most responders were pleased with local parish management and the cultural competence of pastors,” Belthrop-Hariston said. “However, they still see opportunities for improvement through outreach and inclusion.”

“One frustration surfaced repeatedly,” David said, “that of perceiving the Hispanic community as being emphasized while ministry to African-Americans and to Africans is not a focus.”

“Another suggestion we friars might act on is searching out ways to acknowledge the variety of cultures in our ministries and, if it is the African-American culture, to not be bound by the Dr. King holiday and Black History Month.”

“Teresa reminded us that we need to be listening to a new generation of African-Americans that approaches the Church in a contemporary context,” said David, based at University of Georgia’s Catholic Center.

Some of the other results of the survey included the following: 
· Developing actionable plans to address two or three key issues; focus on “what is in your control” 
· Investigating the issues of schools/funding/retention
· Engaging African-Americans in all aspects of parish life and decision-making 
· Monitoring communications for inclusivity
· Considering offering cultural-themed liturgies and other programs outside of Black History Month

Celebration and Articles 
Also at the meeting, the location of the Province’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration was determined. It will be held at the Church of St. Mary on Broadway in Providence, R.I. John O’Connor, OFM, “if he is reelected as Provincial Minister,” will be the presider and homilist, David said, adding that Frank Sevola, OFM, the pastor, “said that his community is excited to host the celebration.”

Two handouts were distributed at the committee’s September meeting:
· A report from the National Black Catholic Congress titled “A Portrait of Black Catholics in the United States” 
· “A Sin, A Dream, A Vocation, A Vision — Racial Justice and the Catholic Church,” by Bryan Massingale of 
 Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wis. 

Information about the experiences of contemporary and historical African-American Catholics can be found in the many article on the NBCC website, Belthrop-Hairston said.

Next Steps
The HNP African-American Ministry Committee has several plans for the coming year. They include:
• Meeting with the Province’s Hispanic-American Ministry Committee to share best practices 
• Distributing to HNP friars a synopsis of Project Listen 
• Organizing a vocation retreat, called “Go Down Moses,” for African-American Catholic men aged 18 to 35
• Focusing on areas of concern: 
· awareness of African-American culture
· incorporating African-American Culture into the liturgy
· retention of African-American Catholics
· African-American vocations
· change management (dealing with the needs of Hispanics in predominantly African-American ministries)

The most important action that can be taken is fostering a sense of empowerment and hope, said Belthrop-Hairston, a member of the board of St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, N.C.

“It is going to be critical to highlight positive action and change rather than endless dialogues that create a sense of frustration and hopelessness,” she said. “Most ministries are taking action and managing within their circles of influence and control. This is the key to fostering positive change.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.