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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 6. Community Capacity Building Toward Nurturing Sanctuary

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Faith is a house with many rooms. There’s plenty of room for doubt on every floor…. Doubt is useful. It keeps faith a living thing.

—Yann Martel1

Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it in relative opacity… [including] a certain communion of the faithful with Sacred things.

—Frantz Fanon2

Much of the existing research on African American religious involvement tends to focus on religious affiliation being one or more of the following: (a) a valued set of practices and interactions of institutional engagement; (b) a buffer or mediator between personal, familial, environmental, or other pathology; (c) a Pan-African process of return to faith roots of cultural legacy and reclamation; and/or (d) a vital political institution of collective uplift, within and across many historical moments and into today.3 To contribute to the first two of these research strands through a unique “three-legged stool” of collaboration, Nurturing Sanctuary analyzed the contributions of a group of churches that worked with health department staff and university researchers ← 155 | 156 → to improve the means through which the churches enrich their faith-health, capacity-building missions. Capacity building is “maximizing local area assets of individuals, families, organizations, and others, [so they] can be brought together to collectively nurture an improved quality of life.”4 Community capacity building is the “nurturing” of nurturing sanctuary. Sanctuary is a specific room in a place of faith. It is movement to a place of refuge from the tensions of nation-state...

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