• Written by Stephanie Clintonia Boddie, Assistant Professor of Church and Community Ministries, George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University

The Black Church[1] is an institution that was forged in crises. Through slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation and the civil rights era, the network of places of worship serving traditionally Black congregations has seen its fair share of traumatic events.

In 2016, the Rev. Robert Franklin[2], former president of Morehouse College, acknowledged as much in a speech on urban ministries: “Disruption is the question, but the radical love ethic of Jesus is the response.”

And that was before 2020 delivered the COVID-19 pandemic[3], the related economic crisis and the global movement for Black Lives – forcing Black churches to find new ways to worship and serve their communities.

As a scholar[4] who looks at how the Black Church engages with the community, I believe looking at how the institution has endured past crises can provide a blueprint for how communities can deal with today’s trying times.

In particular, the story of how three Black churches in Philadelphia endured events similar to those afflicting society today can give both solace and hope.

A pillar of Philadelphia

Black churches have long been an important pillar in Philadelphia’s African American community. As far back as 1896, civil rights leader and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois[5] was recording the impact that they had[6] in the city. Du Bois’ research[7] found that Philadelpia’s 55 Black congregations[8] had amassed a total annual income of at least US$94,968 and property valued at approximately $908,729 – almost $29 million in today’s dollars. About 100 years later, the University of Pennsylvania’s Congregation Census study[9] found that approximately 2.4% of the Black congregations in the city had established commercial ventures including thrift stores, grocery stores and restaurants.

This tradition of Philadelphia’s Black churches[10] providing a role beyond the faith needs of congregants meant they were well placed to help out in times of crisis, be it health, social or economic.

On the front lines of a health crisis

Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church[11] is the mother church of the oldest Black denomination in the United States. It was established in 1794[12] by the Rev. Richard Allen[13], a former slave, four years after he purchased his freedom for $2,000.

An engraving of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was America’s first Black church. Kean Collection/Getty Images[14]

Allen, an entrepreneur, also co-founded the Free African Society[15], a mutual aid organization, with clergyman Absalom Jones in 1787. The Free African Society, in which the seeds of the church were sown, emphasized self-determination[16] for free Black people by providing economic, cultural, social and spiritual guidance, as well as medical care.

During the yellow fever outbreak of 1793[17], Allen and Jones[18] responded to the request of Benjamin Rush[19], a well-known physician and lesser-known founding father, to help the sick.

As the plague took more lives, about 20,000 people fled the city[20]. People abandoned sick family members, and hospitals were unprepared to meet the need. Within four months, about 5,000 people died[21], approximately 10% of the population.

Allen asked Black residents in Philadelphia to set aside their resentments against white people to work as nurses, cart drivers, coffin makers and gravediggers for a decent wage. Meanwhile, churches remained open to maintain morale.

Historians have noted that Allen, Jones and other free Black people helped to restore the sense of human dignity[22] to the city while urging white citizens to expand their notion of brotherly love to include black people[23].

Surviving the 1930s economic crisis

In common with many people across Philadelphia and across the U.S., congregants of Tindley Temple United Methodist Church[24] suffered as a result of the economic depression of the 1930s[25].

The church, led by the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley[26] from 1902 to 1933, served a Black community in South Philadelphia at a time when many were locked out of occupations through a “last hired, first fired” policy[27] that discriminated against them.

Tindley, the son of an enslaved person who advanced from brick carrier and church janitor to pastor of one of the first Black-built churches on Broad Street, used his entrepreneurial skills[28] to help the congregation.

Under Tindley’s leadership[29], the church used its relationships and resources to both train and place African Americans in new positions. Tindley advised church members to use their skills to start businesses such as restaurants and barber shops and to save their money to purchase homes. To implement these strategies, the church[30] established a building and loans association and offered evening classes to offer job training to church members and new migrants from the South.

Tindley also associated with other entrepreneurs, like merchant and political leader John Wanamaker[31], and leveraged such connections to create employment opportunities for parishioners.

Advancing civil rights and self-reliance

Through the social upheavals of the civil rights era, Philadelphia’s Zion Baptist Church[32] served as a rock for North Philadelphia’s Black community.

The Rev. Leon Sullivan[33], who served as the church’s pastor from 1950 to 1988, provided moral guidance and promoted an institutional and collective approach to economic success. It came at a time when Black people[34] faced discriminatory hiring practices, police brutality and were shut out of the new suburban housing boom and opportunities to build wealth.

Sullivan founded the Opportunity Industrialization Center[35] to provide employment training to address urban poverty and racial inequality.

He is best known for urging American corporations to divest from South Africa during apartheid, and his “Global Sullivan Principles[36]” set guidelines for multinational corporations to do so. In 1962, Sullivan led his congregation to establish a “community investment cooperation model[37]” known as the “10-36 Plan[38].”

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[39].]

By 1968, the 10-36 Plan had over 3,300 members and $400,000 worth of assets secured to build Progress Plaza[40], which is one of the nation’s first shopping centers owned, operated and primarily funded by Black Americans.

Sullivan also led efforts to start the Selective Patronage Program[41] – boycotting companies that failed to hire Black and other minority employees.

Lessons of the past

Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.[42] – who narrates a currently airing PBS documentary series[43] on the Black church – has noted how the institution became a laboratory for the creation of a new culture[44] for the benefit of Black Americans.

For this reason, it has always served as a pillar that has helped families and communities disproportionately affected by health, economic and racial crises – both in the early days of the Black church through to today’s uncertain times.

How Philadelphia's Black churches overcame disease, depression and civil strife


  1. ^ Black Church (
  2. ^ the Rev. Robert Franklin (
  3. ^ COVID-19 pandemic (
  4. ^ scholar (
  5. ^ W.E.B. Du Bois (
  6. ^ they had (
  7. ^ Du Bois’ research (
  8. ^ Philadelpia’s 55 Black congregations (
  9. ^ University of Pennsylvania’s Congregation Census study (
  10. ^ Black churches (
  11. ^ Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (
  12. ^ established in 1794 (
  13. ^ the Rev. Richard Allen (
  14. ^ Kean Collection/Getty Images (
  15. ^ Free African Society (
  16. ^ self-determination (
  17. ^ yellow fever outbreak of 1793 (
  18. ^ Jones (
  19. ^ Benjamin Rush (
  20. ^ about 20,000 people fled the city (
  21. ^ about 5,000 people died (
  22. ^ sense of human dignity (
  23. ^ white citizens to expand their notion of brotherly love to include black people (
  24. ^ Tindley Temple United Methodist Church (
  25. ^ economic depression of the 1930s (
  26. ^ the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley (
  27. ^ last hired, first fired” policy (
  28. ^ entrepreneurial skills (
  29. ^ Tindley’s leadership (
  30. ^ church (
  31. ^ John Wanamaker (
  32. ^ Zion Baptist Church (
  33. ^ The Rev. Leon Sullivan (
  34. ^ time when Black people (
  35. ^ Opportunity Industrialization Center (
  36. ^ Global Sullivan Principles (
  37. ^ community investment cooperation model (
  38. ^ 10-36 Plan (
  39. ^ Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter (
  40. ^ Progress Plaza (
  41. ^ Selective Patronage Program (
  42. ^ Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. (
  43. ^ PBS documentary series (
  44. ^ laboratory for the creation of a new culture (

Authors: Stephanie Clintonia Boddie, Assistant Professor of Church and Community Ministries, George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News


SANDRA BOOKER "Until We Meet Again" RELEASES WORLDWIDE MARCH 30TH There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create works that meet our collective moment at a time we most need their...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

How Can Music Itself Survive Without Rock n Roll?

Just because you don’t hear much straightforward rock and roll on the Top 40 charts these days doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. Its time in the mainstream limelight may not be as popular as it was when I was growing up in the 70s and what we now...

Michael Mesey, American Greed - avatar Michael Mesey, American Greed

Is Rock Music a Dying Breed?

“Rock ‘n’ Roll [is here to stay, it...] can […will] never die” – David Ernest White, Neil Percival Young, etc. “Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead” – Leonard Albert Kravitz, Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, etc. “And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby…” – S...

Eli Soiefer/Emodulari - avatar Eli Soiefer/Emodulari


“There’s Reason” The question mark (?) logo that Brisbane, Australia husband and wife rockers skinsNbones use in all their promotional materials in lieu of band photos reflects a fascinating aesthetic designed to create mystery, provoke and en...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

RAP without the F Bomb

Some would say that’s like peanut butter without jelly.  Hey, I am no prude and I shocked my best friend from grade school when I said “great detectives caught the Mo Foes, from my new song Clean Slate.”  She said:  whoa, you dropped the F word.”...

Rebecca L Davis   aka    DawgGoneDavis - avatar Rebecca L Davis aka DawgGoneDavis

My COVID Musical Journey by Kai Alece

It has been said that maybe one in 1 million musicians will make it to stardom. If you are in the top 5%, you are probably writing songs for top artists, scoring for blockbuster films and TV, a sought after session musician or maybe even playing ...

Kai Alece - avatar Kai Alece

Metropolitan Business News

Perfecting Web Design For A Health-Based Website

These days, when it comes to understanding what we put into our bodies, we are more focused than ever. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another health benefit, product, or trend on the...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

3 Realistic Reasons Why Physical Offices Are (Almost) Dead

Nowadays, more and more businesses are trying to find alternatives to traditional offices. For many years, brick and mortar offices have been at the heart of a company’s life. But work environme...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Advantages of no-code app development for businesses

A marketer may or may not have knowledge about coding. But even if you don't’ have knowledge in coding, it is easy to build an automation sequence between two apps by making use of a no code app bui...

News Co - avatar News Co

Do Directories Still Help SEO?

Directories were once one of the main staples of SEO and they were definitely in existence before search engines took over. Directories were once the main way that people navigated the world wide we...

News Co - avatar News Co

Shipping Container FAQs

If you are looking to rent or purchase a shipping container, you probably have a few questions. We have selected some of the most common questions and answered them here. We hope that you find this ...

News Co - avatar News Co

Is Duplicate Content an SEO Myth?

Any marketer you speak to about duplicate content is concerned about a “duplicate content penalty” but they are probably not very experienced with SEO. Google has specific guidelines on duplicate co...

News Co - avatar News Co

Writers Wanted

News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion