Neither the snow nor freezing temperatures dampened the spirits of nearly 200 pastors and community leaders Saturday at the Mathews Memorial Baptist Church in southeast D.C., where Senate Chaplain Barry Black offered a word of hope.
As the 62nd chaplain of a Congress in which Republicans outnumber Democrats in both chambers, Black stands as a spiritual voice who does much than offer well-crafted invocations.
On Saturday he crossed the Anacostia River to preach and inspire a diverse group of pastors and community leaders that upstaged scrambled eggs, grits and fried apples at the Ward 8 Faith Leaders Network.
As leaders from the Anacostia Coordinating Committee, the East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership and the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative listened, Black began by saying,” You have to be careful what you ask for.”
Black, a native of Baltimore who attended Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, talked being a victim of discrimination in Alabama and in the Navy, where he eventually rose to the rank of captain.
“You have to get ready to suffer, that’s where we go from here, praise God,” Black said. “George Patton said, for every ounce of perspiration expended in preparation and training, you save a gallon on the battlefield. You have to be disciplined. Mathew 16 says, if anyone come after me he must deny self and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Rev. Donald Isaacs, head of the East of the River Clergy Police Project, said the event was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community.”
Isaacs said the groups are also organizing a march for next year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, which the faith leaders will lead.
“I want 50 ministers be at the front to lead that march,” said Isaacs, adding that church must return to the days when pastors were drum majors and the march toward freedom and social justice.
“Often we get so busy doing church work we don’t do the work of the church, and that is going beyond the walls of the church to help the community,” Isaacs said.
The room was filled with white and Black faith leaders, Catholic priests and a Muslim imam. Rev. Joan Buchanan, interim pastor of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, offered the opening prayer.
“I’m really hopeful that we can come together with the faith leaders in this community and strategize on how we can come together for the future,” said Rev. Perry Moon, executive director of the Far Southeast Collaborative.
In addition to challenging people to suffer, Black also said people must humble themselves, serve others, sacrifice and be honest and optimistic.
“We have to be honest about ourselves, Black-on-Black crime,” said Black, who added that while he grew up on welfare in Baltimore and had to fight with gangs, there was a woman who took him into her home and served him hot meals.
Even though the Republicans control Congress and have been pushing a conservative agenda, Black said he remains ” optimistic,” about the future on Capitol Hill because every week he convenes a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have Bible study and pray together.
“How you travel is just as important as your destination,” he said. “Be humble or stumble. Pride goes before destruction. Nonviolent, direct action is a humble approach, it’s not a suicide approach.”
Black concluded his message by addressing the question of the event’s theme — “Where do we go from here? — with five key points:
“Be on the road to optimism because God is still on the throne. Be willing to suffer. Be honest about what we need to do. Be willing to sacrifice. Be that drum major who is willing to serve.”