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‘Catechism’: A celebration of ‘black church tradition’

 

The new year in the African-American church is a time of installing new officers, implementing fresh plans for outreach, and making a spiritual recommitment through corporate fasting and prayer. The new year in the African-American church is a time of installing new officers, implementing fresh plans for outreach, and making a spiritual recommitment through corporate fasting and prayer.


An integral part of a candidate crossing over into full servantship is “the laying on of hands” by ministers and deacons who thereby pass on the same spirit of dedication and service that has been imparted to them by God. Dr. Parker lays hands on Tara Shorty. Bishop William Young and Pastor Dianne Young follow suit.


Weeks of grueling study and prayer prepare candidates for the public catechism. Bill Bradford, chairman of The Healing Center Deacon Board, (seated), poses a question to John Johnson who stands before the congregation to give his answer. Pastor Dianne P. Young, at left, looks on. (Photos by Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

For the Baptist church, the time is particularly celebratory. Deacons, trustees, associate pastors, and ministers are ordained to take office, charged with serving church “meekness and humility” in the execution of their duties. The ritual is called a catechism (pronounced cat-a-ki-zim).

Dr. Edward Parker, pastor of Berean Baptist Church, was catechist (pronounced cat-a-kist) last Sunday at The Healing Center as six candidates were promoted to the office of deacon. The aspiring officers were encouraged to “be super-servants for the Lord” in Dr. Parker’s message.

“The catechism is an important tradition in the black worship experience,” said Dr. Parker. “It’s not just a practice instituted by the Baptist church. The catechism is more cultural than denominational – it’s customary across the board for most black denominations. We celebrate God’s anointing and promotion on a person’s life as they seek to serve in a particular capacity.

“The candidates are formally presented to the church body that they might be examined and deemed worthy to hold office,” said Dr. Parker. “The catechism is an actual question-and-answer session. Candidates go through weeks and sometimes, months, of prayer and study in preparation. Deacons and deaconesses (women officers) grill the candidates on what their duties are and the Biblical basis for the office, but there are really no surprise questions.”

As each answer was given by a candidate, the congregation responded with applause and shouts of encouragement. After this question-and-answer period, the catechism board met privately to make a final decision about who “has been found worthy to serve.”

“I’ve been a pastor for more than 30 years,” said Dr. William M. Young, senior pastor and bishop of The Healing Center. “I’ve attended many catechism services, and I have yet to see one candidate denied promotion. It’s more a ceremony in the black church tradition. Family and friends come to celebrate God’s promotion of their loved ones.

“It’s a meaningful service that carries great significance for both the candidates and the church body. The catechism is an important rite of passage.”

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