The Howard University School of Divinity has received a $1 million, three-year research grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., to study African-American churches in three cities and one rural location and document the best practices in those communities that lead to the spiritual, physical, social and mental health of black congregations.

Divinity school faculty and doctoral students and other researchers will work in Atlanta, Detroit, Tuskegee, Ala., and Washington, where they will explore a broad range of subjects that affect or are affected by black spiritual worship and practice,” said School of Divinity Dean A. B. Pollard III, Ph.D., the principal investigator for the grant.

“We will be looking at everything from youth, economic development and the worship experience to mental health, HIV/AIDS and the formerly incarcerated.”

Research in each community will be overseen by a Divinity faculty member who will work with local researchers, such as doctoral students and professors at local universities and colleges. The researchers will examine at least two churches in each community.

Professor Kenyatta Gilbert will oversee Atlanta, Professor Harold Dean Trulear will coordinate Detroit, Pollard will lead Tuskegee and Professor Cheryl Sanders will supervise Washington.

The project is called “Equipping the Saints: Promising Practices in Black Congregational Life.” Howard received the grant after an extensive application process that spanned more than 18 months and included visits to the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based, philanthropic organization created in 1937. The foundation gives religious grants to “enrich the religious lives of American Christians, primarily by helping to strengthen their congregations.”

“This is a milestone for the School of Divinity,” Pollard said.

“We have not customarily been the recipients of major research grants.”

Throughout the project, the School of Divinity will be developing internet and written material so congregations, religious and scholars and others churches nationally can look at the best ways other churches are doing things andpossibly learn from those practices, Pollard said.

“We will have a web-based resource bank through our website, and we’ll also have brochures and pamphlets,” he said. “In the third year, we’ll have a major conference here at the school examining promising practices.”

Finally, Pollard said, the school will publish an edited volume with contributions from faculty, researchers,and leading scholars familiar with the subject. “We’re making several layers of commitments to get the word out about some of the good things that are happening in Black congregational life,” he said.

The four communities where researchers will be working were chosen because each represents a different aspect of the African-American religious experience today, he said.

Atlanta, the economic and political hub of the South, has long been the center of Black economic empowerment and political leadership. Tuskegee, anchored by Tuskegee University and once the home of Booker T. Washington and scientist George Washington Carver, offers a rich heritage in a rural environment. In Detroit, African-American congregations are working through deep economic challenges in a city with double-digit unemployment rates. Washington, the seat of the nation’s Capital, represents the nexus between the political and the religious.

The study will be looking for diversity as it chooses congregations to study, Pollard said. “They can be of any denomination, heritage, small or large,” he said. “They can be store fronts or mega churches. None of them is out of bounds.”

Mobosoloa Asanpaola

Special to the AFRO