By Rev. Dr. C.E. McAdoo
Retired Clergy, Arkansas Conference
Black Power, Black Power, Black Power. These are words spoken to articulate a cultural reality. We have popularized its use as a political and racial slogan, because on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael used these words. Yet as I try to help us all understand the true dynamics of Black Power, it was on the horizon some 12 years earlier. In 1954, Richard Wright wrote the book Black Power and the Rev. Dr. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell said at Howard University, “To demand these God-given rights is to seek Black Power.”
As a freshly graduated seminarian, in my first charge back in the state of Arkansas, I witnessed God-given power at St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The strength, discipline, and hope of this congregation demonstrated the power aforementioned within and throughout the community. Upon arrival, I saw through my own eyes a church with minimal resources, no reserved funds, and a depleted budget in need of a whole church renovation. Although the church was faced with insurmountable odds, St. James United Methodist Church believed in a future that surpassed its circumstances. As any young pastor, I would have liked to believe that I was the catalyst for its structural and faith renovation, God power was the true source of growth and development that took place.
St. James United Methodist Church membership included many distinguished Pine Bluff residents, many of which were professors and staff at the University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff and prominent citizens who were civic and social leaders within the city. As a new pastor, I relied on Dr. John Barner (a prominent professor at UAPB) to help me gain perspective of the needs of the church and the greater community. With his and others’ help, we sought to actualize the vision of renovating the structure of the church and building a structure that represented transformational growth within the community.
I vividly recall a galvanizing moment that solidified our path toward leaning into God’s power. A member stated, “Reverend, look at that, it’s a shame. We’ve got to do something.” As a Black church, in a predominantly Black community, a member called my attention to the decline of a pillar that has meant so much, to so many for decades. At that moment, I truly felt the connection of God’s Power and Black Power.
Understanding the urgency of the moment, I sought avenues to be a positive change agent. At that time, as a young pastor with limited resources; the only resource that I knew that was available was the United Methodist Church’s construction resource that assisted churches in building and renovations. Consequently, I reached out to a construction manager that was working in this capacity on a project in my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee. I contacted the construction manager and asked if he could assist in a whole church renovation at St. James United Methodist Church. Through God’s Power, he agreed.
In one of my favorite hymns, the writer says it best in verse one of the song, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness.” As I reflect on this great song, I think about the hope and faith in God’s power that the congregants had to embark on such a task as renovating a structure with so few resources and a new pastor fresh out of seminary. The congregation was extraordinarily supportive and believed in the strength of God’s power and their purpose in kingdom building. With this foundation, they began to actualize their potential. They believed in God’s Power and they believed in Black Power.
Although during this process, I had been an active agent of change and a motivating presence, the Lord blessed me to put away my ego and entrust this whole church renovation into the hands of two trusted and respected members. This factor enabled me to preach, pray, teach, conduct campus ministry, and perform my pastoral care duties. Their help was invaluable to my pastoral effectiveness and the overall health of the church during that time.
I recall a time during the construction when their help, guidance, and wisdom exemplified the personification of self-reliance and faith. We were close to completion and could not worship in the sanctuary that was under construction. I used my relationship with the pastor of First United Methodist Church – Pine Bluff to work out an agreement to utilize their chapel while their congregation worshiped in their sanctuary concurrently on the Sunday that our church was unoccupied. Upon hearing about the agreement, one of those trusted members said to me, and I quote, “Reverend, I love you, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit in the chapel while the white folks worship in the sanctuary.” At that moment, Black Power became Worship Power, at a location within the community.
You may ask, what is the point? The point is … Just as Jesus was in the garden, he asked God to pass over him the bitter cup. He asked a second time for God’s will to strengthen him. My salary was $300 per week. On the first Sunday that I pastored, the church took up $299. Black Power without adequate funds, stable money, and resources becomes “Fake Power.” I have yet to mention it, but the entire church renovation was a grand total of $85,000. With God’s Power, we were able to overcome this improbable dream. Each week, my two trusted members brought the weekly receipts in amounts payable to the church and we paid them weekly on each Monday.
Fortunately, my beloved district superintendent, John Lindsey, came by the church and asked what we were doing. I explained it to him, and he asked about the method in which we were paying for an $85,000 renovation (without authorization) and I explained it to him. He noted that we did not follow the Book of Discipline. I agreed and submitted that I did not know what was there. But… then he asked, “What can I do?” I noted that we did not have a sanctuary cross and he promptly purchased one with his personal funds.
God is not just empowering United Methodists. God empowers all people in their kingdom-building potentiality. That improbable renovation enabled the church to expand all of its ministries (large community youth group, college participation and focus, active United Methodist Men and Women units, self-sustaining and effective tutorial program, affirmative community development, and outstanding membership growth). Just like the interstate, God’s Power crosses all roads. These roads are God giving, as his gift to us, all people, not just in February, but year-round. Black Power.