The first ever Black Church Revival at San Francisco Theological Seminary brought together parishioners near and far, all eager to participate in three nights of preaching, prayer and praise, courtesy of Rev. Yolanda Norton, H. Eugene Farlough Chair of Black Church Studies, and Assistant Professor of Old Testament.
Three preachers from different parts of the country came to the SFTS campus to deliver powerful sermons to a rapt congregation over three evenings in Stewart Chapel. Music, art, spoken word, and altar design were all planned in careful detail around the themes for each evening. Through the themes of the Black Diaspora, Womanist Theology, and Black Power, the preachers lifted ancient scripture to new heights, giving depth and modern context to familiar stories, uniting them in a common call to action for social justice.
Rev. Norton talked about the importance of having a Black Church Revival at SFTS: “My primary concern was my students—that there is an appreciation for where they come from. For Black people, so much of our history and our resilience is embedded in the Black Church. So when we talk about Black theology and Black politics, we’re talking about Black Church.”
The Revival was planned in collaboration with students Carolyn Anderson, Denise Diaab, Alonzo Fuller, and Ashley Reid. Reid, a third-year MDiv student, shared her feelings:
“It really took me back home, and allowed me to embody the Blackness in my worship. The different themes each night showed the rich diversity of worship that’s possible. I think it’s important for people to be able to see themselves and be themselves in their worship, and these types of services create the space for that to happen.”
Rev. Reginald W. Sharpe Jr. of Atlanta, GA started off the Revival reminding us of the great “cloud of witnesses” that follows us, renews our faith, and supports us in our struggles (Hebrews 12:1). Rev. Sharpe spoke of his grandmother’s recent passing, and how he now imagined her in the “great cloud” along with many others who had struggled in the fight against racism, hatred, and inequality. He found comfort knowing that “the same God that brought them through the fire and carried them through the storm, is the same God who will take care of us right now.”
The following evening, Rev. Dr. Lisa Thompson of Union Theological Seminary in New York City preached on 1 Kings 17:8-15. Rev. Thompson reconciled her frustration with Elijah asking more of Essie than seemed possible, by realizing that Essie’s empathy was the lesson to be learned. “Empathy helps bring about change—helps us align and identify with experiences. Hook up your meal with my oil, and I believe God can do something more. Trust the God who lives within us, the God who calls us out, and the God who calls out to us from other people.”
The final evening of the Revival began with a powerful tribute to Black Lives Matter and Black Power, featuring “This is America,” a song by rapper Childish Gambino, addressing gun violence, discrimination and racism in the United States.
Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland was joined by the Allen Temple Men’s Chorus as she left the pulpit to walk among the pews, lifting up the lessons of 2 Samuel 21:18-22, “When facing new giants, we need a new strategy, a new generation, a new game plan. If each of us uses what God has given us, eventually we will slay the giants.”
Rev. Thompson applauded the use of pop culture to create a modern and engaging liturgy for a new generation:
“Gambino…a new strategy for a new giant. If we’re going to empower and speak to a generation that’s coming behind us, we have to be open to how others may connect to God. We have to find a way to show them that the things they engage in culture are very much relevant. The only thing that’s required is an open heart and an open mind.”