The church has long been a fundamental pillar in the black community, and one organization is making an effort to preserve the rich history of an institution deeply rooted in African American heritage.
Heritage Tourism Alliance of Montgomery County, has committed to preserving that legacy by publishing a guide of African American churches in the Washington area.
The guide, titled “Community Cornerstones: A Selection of Historic African American Churches in Montgomery County, Maryland,” details the history of 21 historically African American Montgomery churches. These churches, founded by free slaves, reflect the desire to create a new life after years of being in captivity and repeated violence. While most of the churches are still in use, three churches that are included in the guide are no longer standing.
Peggy Erickson, executive director of Heritage Montgomery, was inspired to create the guide after the tourism alliance filmed an Emmy Award winning video on the Civil War last year.
“This story needs to be told rather quickly because the congregations are vanishing and the people are growing old," Ericksen told the Washington Post. "We need to get their stories out.”
The guide counteracts the struggle for many black churches to stay relevant in an evolving world where many argue the institution is already dead. . Churches like the Rossville A.M.E. Zion in Staten Island have fought to stay alive amidst "outward migration, new housing development, and gentrification" in their community.
Conflicting ideologies have also been a source of divide in the already weakened church. President Barack Obama's endorsement of gay marriage this year added fuel to a growing debate throughout both the nation and the black community. While some black churches supported the president's decision many denounced Obama's controversial endorsement due to their conservative ideologies.
ALthough the future of the black church may be uncertain, Heritage Montgomery recognizes it's extremely relevant history and encourages a celebration of the institution as a rich facet of African American history.