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Nurturing Sanctuary

Community Capacity Building in African American Churches


Townsand Price-Spratlen

How are predominantly African American churches meeting the needs of young people? What resources of, and tensions in, faith leadership are shaping answers to this and other related questions? Nurturing Sanctuary analyzes ways in which the two most vital institutions of the Black experience – families and churches – are working with schools and health providers to respond to contemporary challenges and improve the twenty-first century life chances of African Americans and others. Data were generated from a four-year collaboration of eighteen churches, public health professionals, service learning students, and an interdisciplinary team of researchers. Eighty parents and pastors, and over 400 teenagers in a large, Midwestern city specified strategies of action in their daily lives and how they use them to respond, more and less successfully, to their many life challenges. Nurturing Sanctuary explores three capacity-building themes that emerged and critiques diverse Sacred and secular resources being developed and used. Finally, it specifies innovative best practices that are enriching faith-health relationships among religiously active persons, and all others with whom they interact within and beyond sanctuary walls.
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Chapter 2. Service Learning in the Faith and Health of African American Youth

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We hope to give the teens information to make decisions considering how God wants them to mirror their lives. The program will give them [accurate] information to make better life-choices, and will be based on the premise of “restoration.” As we prepare the teens to do the right thing, we will also let them know that if you have made poor decisions in the past, it doesn’t end there…. So they know they can still make the best of the situation and move on to have a fulfilling life with the Lord.

—Alicia McGregorYouth Ministry, Grace Cathedral Church1

Where the school work consists in simply learning lessons… [it] becomes a clandestine effort to relieve one’s neighbor of his proper duties…. When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious.

—John Dewey2

How does reciprocity between faith and health matter in the lives of African American youth? Defined biblically as “reaping what one sows,”3 reciprocity is the expression of shared norms of Sacred exchange. It is giving without an expectation of return and the Grace-affirmed receiving that often occurs in having gifted another in this way. “True” reciprocity is far less about “the expectations and obligations of mutual aid which it engenders”4 and much...

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