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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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Epilogue—A Conversation with Pastor Orinda Hawkins Brinkley


During the three and a half years of the CoCHY research project, I had the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of health professionals and faith leaders: women and men, older and young, those from large and small churches and many sizes in between, those from traditional denominations extending back generations into African American religious history, and many from the contemporary nondenominational churches that seek to broaden their market base by removing distinctions toward being “one in the body of Christ.” Some of the CoCHY project pastors had been child evangelists in contemporary versions of the “streetcorner caller for Christ” urban tradition, while others had maintained a career and life into adulthood outside of faith leadership, and had then come to their pastor role. And there were many mixtures of these and other characteristics among those I was fortunate to share time with during the project.

I came to know Pastor Orinda Hawkins Brinkley due to her leadership of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. I have kept in touch with Pastor “O” over the now eight years since CoCHY ended. She is an African American woman of great depth and caring, a passionate, resilient, and thoughtful survivor who has experienced much in her life within and beyond faith leadership. Like my late mother, Dr. Lois Price Spratlen, Pastor O was first trained and ← 169 | 170 → worked as a nurse. While raising her children, she returned to school and changed careers. And like my mother, all the while,...

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