Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia Aims to Revitalize the Involvement Role of Black Males in the Church

The congregation joins in prayer.
The congregation joins in prayer.

In a time when traditional Black churches are trying hard to maintain membership or just maintain, period, Berachah Baptist Church has been able to attract a rare, precious demographic that has become uncommon in church — young Black males. Out of about 40 to 50 people in attendance on one Sunday in June, about 50 percent of that number was Black males, and a third or more were young adults.

They may not necessarily be prone to singing, dancing or shouting as the more mature members of the church, but they are there, some with their children, and seem to be listening.

This phenomena at Berachah is mainly the result of a mentoring circle: Brother, My Brother.

“The reason why you don’t see a lot of Black men in church is because people are supposed to be leading them and not doing it,” said Prince Johnakin, an Associate Minister who leads Brother, My Brother. “How do we have no Black vocational schools or Black unions?”

Johnakin serves the gentlemen as an advisor on jobs, not minimum-wage jobs but jobs that can help them provide for families; family life issues; and conducts regular meetings where they discuss entrepreneurship and business ventures.

“On Sunday, after church, we have a conversation about what we are going to pursue, look at an agenda and go to the boardroom with people we know who are going to hire these guys,” he said. “These are first-class men, I don’t care if they are low income or out of prison. The goal is to make them whole again, not [connected] with a system that rewards them for having a job, but not a job that can feed their families. They need to know the value of themselves.”

Jeremiah Dupont, one of the “Brothers,” said he appreciates the realness of Johnakin and the brotherhood, period.

“He was trying to help me get a job,which I will probably be in by the end of the week,” he said. “I appreciate him being blunt and straight up.”

Even as Berachah serves as a meeting ground for the gentlemen to make business moves, it is still just as much a place for spiritual help.

Lamar Williams, 24, said he had not been to church in 14 years before the fourth Sunday in June, the Sunday of the Tribune’s visit.

“It felt good, it was something I needed,” he said. “There are a lot of things I’m dealing with, now I can come in here. Hearing [Pastor Shine] speak [about] how to handle certain situations — you don’t have to raise your voice or resort to violence, it was like he was speaking to me.”

Jermaine Peters said he was skeptical when Johnakin initially invited him to Berachah.

“Growing up, trusting and being betrayed, I didn’t want to go through it again,” said Peters. But once he tried Beracha, he said he loved the experience.

“Everybody looked me in my eyes and greeted me with a smile. They didn’t make me feel like an ex-con. I felt like I was getting a second chance at life.”

Beracha Senior Pastor the Rev. Robert P. Shine founded the church in 1985 with a mission to “be a blessing.” Berachah means “blessing” in Hebrew.

“I saw the need for a more assertive and a more aggressive role … as far as social justice is concerned,” said Shine. “As former president of the Philadelphia Black Clergy and Vicinity, there were concerns about racism, Black on Black crime, police shootings of Black men, arrests of Black men in terms of driving while Black, in terms of unequal suspicion — those were the things that constituted a role the church needed to take to provide leadership.”

Before Shine founded Beracha, he taught courses in the minor prophets at the Manna Bible Institute. Having regularly studied the prophets, especially those in the Old Testament, he said he became especially fond of Hosea, Joel and Amos, which he said could be characterized as the social activist prophets.

Beracha’s work in and for the community, then, said Shine, are striving to be biblical.

“Education, jobs, housing, health and injustice — if you don’t have a good education, you can’t get a good job. If you can’t get a good job, you’re left to live in Section 8. All five of these things are messing with the Black community,” he said. “We are still struggling to survive, the question is when do we come at success.

Above all that is the role of the church. The mission of the church is ‘Go ye therefore’ and teach them observe … When Jesus went to the mountain, he [fed] the multitude. Feeding is a necessary requisite.”

Shine has set an advocacy tone at Berachah through his own work. Throughout his career, he has co-founded the World Communications Charter School; fought police brutality; advocated for gun control; and has served on the Police Advisory Commission, among other efforts.

Sheila Roberts, a member for 22 years, said when she “was in the process of losing her house, Shine spoke to one of the senators in that county and things turned around. He won’t shy away from a fight.” Overall, Roberts describes Berachah as a sanctuary that has supported her in rough times.

“I have a better prayer life. My faith is stronger and I know more how to apply the word,” she said. “Berachah has been a refuge.”

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Source: Philadelphia Tribune | Samaria Bailey