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What Black Faith Communities Can Teach About Pentecost

April 19, 2017
Danjuma Gibson

Danjuma Gibson

Now that Easter has passed, says Danjuma Gibson, it’s a good time for churches and church members to look ahead and consider the life-altering nature of Pentecost, the day when tongues of fire fell on Christ’s disciples, opening their eyes to the need to share the good news of Jesus with the rest of the world.

 Lessons learned from African American faith communities can deepen our understanding of this liturgical event, said Gibson, associate professor of pastoral care at Calvin Theological Seminary.

Coming about 50 days after Christ rose from the tomb, Pentecost will fall this year on Sunday, June 4. It is a significant time in which God’s Spirit breaks through and changes hearts and minds.  

“Pentecost is where we see divine disclosure that doesn’t come through one man or one group,” said Gibson, who is also a psychotherapist. “It is God’s communication to everyone under the sun.”

Living in the season of Pentecost — which was historically part of the Jewish harvest festival — is a good time to think about what Christ did on Easter.

In Pentecost, Gibson said, “We see his saving work that subverts our latent biases and prejudices. It permeates our daily being and how we view Scripture.”

A former nondenominational church pastor in Chicago and practicing psychotherapist, Gibson is currently talking about the Spirit of Pentecost to his seminary students and, sharing with them some of the insights in The Economies of Pentecost: Postcolonial Reflections on Pastoral Care, Healing, and Christian Worship, a research guide full of resources for students, pastors, and others.

Written for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, the guide is a wide-ranging overview of how pastoral care and the African American worship experience could be used to gain insight into a spectrum of congregational worship practices.

With the research guide, he is offering a look at and suggestions for how these practices can be woven into the fabric of church life, helping congregations of all types to better reflect the fullness and diversity of the communities in which they find themselves.

“When you take into consideration context, culture, and the local setting, worship can be a real healing space,” he said. “You don’t have to check at the door of the church what is happening outside. You don’t leave political and social issues behind as you come to the throne of grace.”

In his research guide, Gibson focuses on the worship practices of “preaching, prayer, baptism, Lord’s Supper, music, art, architecture, language, cultural dynamics, and more” of Black faith communities and of Black scholars.

“Because such communities and individuals have traditionally existed on the underside of history, their worship practices and theological reflections more often than not reflect” the methods of worship and belief that are the focus of the study guide, Gibson writes in the guide.

In many segments of the Black religious tradition, he writes in the guide, worship is more than song and ritual, “but involves the entirety of the religious community’s life.”

Worship in many Black churches, he said, includes caring for others, the announcements and the gathering of tithes, as well as a strong emphasis on music, frequently gospel music, testimonies, preaching, and prayer.  

This in no way takes away from other faith traditions. Rather, by zeroing in on the Black religious experience, he is trying to express certain ways of worship that arise out of a cultural context of slavery and oppression and take shape in response to the Spirit of Pentecost touching and shaping them, he said.

In his guide, he said, he uses the term Pentecostal “to emphasize the work of the Spirit to advance the purposes of God in the earth and the intentional work of the Spirit to achieve those purposes” through all people in all cultures — and particularly to the “least of these” among us.

The Spirit of Pentecost shows itself in religious practices and in helping form our relationship with God, said Gibson. Pentecost leads us to worship practices in which “we are all equal. It takes the power of God and shows it is for everyone.”

Pentecost disrupts all social structures, breaks apart those things that keep us separated. “No one knew what Pentecost would bring. No one knew what was about to happen and that we would find healing,” said Gibson.

In Chicago, Gibson worked as a banker to support himself while pastoring a church for several years. Serving as a bivocational pastor, he saw how God and worship could form and help heal the many hurts of a community of believers.

In his experience as a pastor, though, he learned that “not every church will fill everyone’s needs. There is no one way to worship. . . . But the goal is to speak life and be consistent with the Scriptures.

“It is important to keep in mind that the gospel is too big to be articulated by any one person or group. Pentecost says we all need one another,” said Gibson.

“As Paul says in First Corinthians 12, we are all one body. No one can say, ‘I don’t need you,’ or that someone is disposable.”