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Darron C. Woodus, MACM

"God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them…" (Gn. 1:27 NABRE).

Walking into the National Black Catholic Conference XIII

venue was spiritually refreshing. The first thing I saw were the steps leading to the upper concourse of the venue; the step risers (the vertical part of a step) were donned with an African-American image of the Madonna and Child. How refreshing! I felt like I was home, although in a foreign place. The organizers hit the nail on the head. The Holy Spirit was at work, and I was moved to joy. I wanted more of this feeling of being home and experiencing God through my culture's lens. St Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Church, says, "We, humankind, are the spoken word of God's imagination." God's imagination needs to show up through us in our worship experience. If we are created in the image of God, our places of worship should reflect us; therefore, we are called to offer MORE to our clergy and lay to foster a liturgical environment that speaks to our culture.

The Book of Genesis reveals, "God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them…" (Gn. 1:27 NABRE). From the beginning, we exist as we are in God's image and likeness. No matter what your image of God is, know that your dignity is deeply rooted in creation by which you are free to contribute to the spiritual growth of all. The act of worship is to praise God and be closer to our God. It’s a spiritual drama unfolding in our time, right in front of our eyes. We are formed in prayer and ultimately sealed in the Eucharist, but are there other things that help us connect to God?

Does your worship environment move you to a more faithful spirituality rooted in your culture? The steps and mural of the Madonna and Child moved me. I was in awe again as I walked into the worship space at Congress XIII. The staged sanctuary was draped with portraits of the African American woman and men on the road to sainthood, the altar and ambo draped with printed fabrics, and the worship space centerpiece with its bundles and folds of stretched materials around a cross as if perched atop a mountain. Our Jewish grandparents emphasize that God always gives revelations from a mountaintop. Moses sees the burning bush from a mountain, and Jesus connects us to the Father on Mount Calvary. I knew I was home. It felt right because a sense of culture existed in the décor or church environment that I could relate to and understand. There was no marble, stone, gold, silver, or brass, just the simplicity of everyday items that make a space home.

After four days at Congress XIII, I departed wanting more and needing more. I regret that more workshops did not address the practical ways African-American Catholics and parishes, with a majority of African-American parishioners, can further exercise culturally inviting worship spaces. We constantly talk about evangelizing to African Americans, bringing people back, and welcoming newcomers to the Catholic faith, but the worship space does not speak to them. It would be worth it to have more workshops geared toward refining our worship spaces culturally.

I would like to see workshops on liturgical décor, the role and responsibility of a sacristan, altar server training, music ministry, etc., with the overlay of African-American culture. The church building is where we meet God, created in His image, where the windows, statues, portraits, and colors are often European-derived. I know we inherited many of our church buildings, and it is costly to change things, but we can add a flair of culture that brings the church building closer to heavenly perfection. We came to Congress as the people of God, leaning on the Lord and seeing the face of the Holy Spirit. Let's continue to shape a better Church that is Black and African American, One, Holy, Catholic, Catholic, and ancestry Apostolic.

Teach me, O Lord!

" If you want to invite people of color into the world of the church, couldn’t some part of it look like them? Yet I am not advocating that you go into churches built by German immigrants and take black paint and spray it all over the saints and angels. I am not proposing anything as simple as that. But there is a reason I chose the cover of my book myself. I wanted to show an Afrocentric Jesus washing the feet of an Afrocentric Peter." Interview: Bishop Edward Braxton on the Catholic Church’s racial divide, the Biden Communion debate, and inclusive church art. American Interview

Bishop Edward Braxton

Author: Darron C. Woodus, MACM, Pastoral Associate, Diaconate Candidate, Archdiocese of Baltimore

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