As many churches struggle to stay open amid the COVID-19 pandemic with dwindling staff and finances, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund received a donation on Monday $20 million to help preserve the heritage of the black church in America.
“The centerpiece of black communities begins with the black church,” Brent Leggs, senior vice president and executive director of the fund told ABC News in an interview. “Black churches are exceptionally important in American democracy, not only for their civil and human rights heritage, but also for their role in building civic identity and community empowerment.”
The $20 million donation to the fund came thanks to Lilly Endowment Inc., a philanthropic foundation that supports community development, education and religion.
Leggs argued that without black churches, which are often seen as pillars of community, America would lose some of its history.
“[Preserving] our common cultural heritage and pride is an act of racial justice,” he said.
And this preservation effort seems more important than ever, as commitment and membership in the black church had lost its appeal even before the pandemic began.
In a previous interview with The Christian Post, Anthony B. Pinn, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Religion at Rice University in Houston, Texas, explained the historic role of the church in the American black community.
“The black church has never been just about spiritual development. The black church has always tried to position itself as an organization that has met a full range of needs. And so people go for that greater range needs,” Pinn said.
He explained that over time, the involvement of black Americans in churches has declined because they have found different avenues to meet their needs, especially among millennials.
“Now you see a decrease in the participation of millennials, for example, because these religious organizations do not meet their needs. They don’t answer the questions that matter to these people,” Pinn said.
Some studies, such as a 2014 Pew Report which shows stark disparities in faith in God by racial group, does not reflect a clear picture of who truly believes, Pinn also argued to explain the complex role of the black church.
“According to Pew, a large majority of African Americans claim to believe in God, but I don’t know if that is synonymous with religion. You could also say that these people are spiritual, whatever that means. What Pew tells us is pretty limited and we tend to go from there,” he said. “We know that a significant percentage of the black population believes there is a God, but the number dwindles if you ask, ‘How many of you go to church regularly.'”
A 2019 Pew Research study showed that the share of black Americans who report attending religious services at least a few times a year or less has increased over the past decade.
According to the researchers, young black Americans – like young Americans in general – are less religious than their elders. Black millennials and members of Generation Z are twice as likely as black members of the silent generation to say they rarely or never attend religious services.
“Black millennials and Gen Zers are less likely to rely on prayer, less likely to have grown up in black churches, and less likely to say religion is an important part of their lives,” the authors wrote. researchers.
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund should provide direct, targeted funding and assistance to Black churches for personnel and operations, help them create an emergency fund, and help churches develop digital storytelling and documentation, ABC News reported.
St. James AME Church in Mayfield, Kentucky, which was destroyed last month by a tornado that killed more than 20 people, is set to receive $100,000. The church was founded in 1868 and will be one of the first beneficiaries of the project’s emergency fund.