Opportunities for change for the Black Church in light of Black Lives Matter 2020 By Karen Carberry

Operating remotely, from my private practice, I have observed how the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement not only intensified relationships between family members and local communities, it has opened a global knowledge base on the impact of everyday racism (Essed, 1991). It has also re-opened generational wounds seeking transgenerational healing.

Tackling isolation and loneliness

Through new skills learnt from the younger generation, elders are using FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom to keep connected, sharing stories of their early lived experiences of injustice, particularly within the UK church system. I recall a former pastor recounting a time when Black people arrived here in the fifties and sixties, and found that in some congregations, Black parishioners were unwelcome to fellowship at ‘White’ churches. At end of service, the minister would greet them with the words: “Thank you for coming. Please do not come again.”

Alarmed, and in order to maintain spiritual and emotional stability, a network of Black UK-based parishioners would inform others of churches that were amenable to fellowship, providing resilience to subsequently set up their own network of ‘Black’ churches. It is somewhat disappointing, therefore, that decades later, news that a Black vicar was recently rejected from taking up a position with a White Church of England congregation – due to his race – illustrates that institutional racism prevails (BBC, 2020). One can only speculate upon the systemic sharing of pain within the Black Christian community of another Black man wronged.  

Reaching out to single Black men – and providing kindness, individual/group space to talk, fellowship through mutual interests and support during this time – will go a long way to enhancing stronger connections to racial identity, affinity, Black pride, belonging and Black love (Boyd-Franklin, 1989).

What can the Church do to help process the emerging tsunami of grief and tension outside of the normalcy of prayer and fasting?

I have had the privilege of being part of a collaborative group of churches over 10 years ago, which hosted a conference delivering seminars on ‘Strengthening Emotional, Physical and Financial Health’, at a time when there was much stigma attached to talking about mental health. With significant numbers of Black men and Black and Minority Ethnic employees either working frontline or affected by COVID-19, there is clear evidence and a connection between structural racism and health inequities (Gee and Ford, 2011).  

Injustices such as bullying, negatively affect the ‘fight or flight’ response, together with a subsequent effect on the immune system through stress-related symptoms, such as anxiety and high blood pressure (Morey et al, 2015). Sharing strategies for self-care and utilising the church networks to support congregants with psycho-education will:

a) examine the embodied response (headache, lethargy, anxiety)

b) normalise it as a natural response to feeling emotionally distressed

c) Initiate talking therapy, visit GP, stress management techniques, eg. breathing exercises, to maintain balance

How can churches provide further support for parents and couples through psycho-education?

Choose Life International (CLI), in Jamaica, quickly seized upon the opportunities presented by COVID-19 to develop a series of webinars to both support and strengthen individuals, couples, families and communities, whether in shielding or working from home, across the Caribbean and globally. CLI shared de-stigmatising resources, delivered by Christian leaders in their field of expertise (CLI, 2020). A range of weekly webinars addressed:

• Parenting
• Building Self-Esteem and Positive Racial Identity in Children and Young People
• Dealing with Conflict in the Home
• Strengthening and Preparing for Marriage
• Being Single 

Webinars streamed into the privacy of homes, and revisited in church discussion groups, lessen isolation. Sharing strategies that work keeps parents – whether together or separated – consistent and on the same page, instilling into children to be racially integrated, and emotionally and mentally healthy (Katz, 1999).

Karen Carberry is a Consultant Family Therapist & Systemic Supervisor. She is also co-editor of The International Handbook of Black Community Mental Health (Publisher: Emerald Publishing Ltd).

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