Black Church

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Apart from the ancient Churches of Nubia and Ethiopia, Black Churches originated in the 18th cent. among the descendants of African slaves in the United States of America. From the 1740s, evangelical revivals attracted Blacks to Christianity, perhaps largely because they were allowed to assume active roles as preachers and leaders. By the 1770s Black Baptists were acting as pastors of separate Black congregations of slave and free members. In the South, Black Churches were restricted and sometimes suppressed because they were thought liable to foment slave rebellion. In the 19th cent., however, slaves regularly held their own religious meetings, with or without their owners' consent, and in sermon and song identified themselves as a chosen people whom God would free; they generated a distinct religious culture expressed in the spirituals.

In the North, the abolition of slavery after the Revolution (1776–83) enabled Blacks to exercise religious freedom. Alienated by White discrimination, Blacks in Philadelphia founded two influential churches in 1794; they were followed by others of various denominations. In 1816 the first major Black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was formed. Most Black Churches were Protestant. Membership was predominantly female, and, though barred from ordination until the 20th cent., women led home prayer meetings and exercised influence. Blacks began the first American foreign missions in the 1780s. After Emancipation in 1865, Northern missionaries went South to organize Churches among the former slaves and the influx of Southern members enlarged the rolls of Northern denominations and made them national in scope. Ex-slaves withdrew from White Churches to found their own. At the end of the 19th cent. Black Church membership reached 2.7 million out of a population of 8.3 million Blacks. In 1895 Black Baptists united to form the National Baptist Convention, soon the largest Black denomination. Blacks joined the new Holiness and Pentecostal Churches which emphasized sanctification and speaking in tongues. At the beginning of the 20th cent. rural Blacks in increasing numbers moved into the cities. RCism attracted significant numbers of Black converts, primarily by means of the parochial schools. Secular alternatives gradually began to compete, but the Church has remained a central institution for Black social, cultural, and political life.

In Britain Black Churches have a substantial presence in urban areas. After 1945 a large number of Black people from the Caribbean were recruited for work. Many who came first were from mainstream Churches, but, feeling unwelcome in the English congregations, came to disregard denominational loyalties. Later immigrants came largely from Holiness or Pentecostal backgrounds. They felt alienated from what they regarded as nominal Christianity. The regrouping of individuals around denominational loyalties within the Holiness-Pentecostal stream provided not only a common bond in worship but also some social and cultural cohesion for Afro-Caribbeans of various denominations. There are also Black Churches among the Seventh-day Adventists and the emerging African Christian groups.

Subjects: United States History — Christianity.

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