Clint Cooper, Chattanooga Times Free Press, February 9, 2008
The School of Theology at the University of the South will celebrate the life and ministry of the Episcopal denomination’s first ordained black priest next week.
But more than 250 years after the Rev. Absolom Jones’s birth, the denomination is one of several mainline churches in the South that continue to have trouble recruiting black clergy.
“Sunday at 11 o’clock is still the most segregated hour in America,” said Stephen N. Benz, executive presbyter for the Presbyterian Church USA’s Presbytery of East Tennessee.
Outside the South, more black clergy serve in PCUSA churches, but in the South the churches are “very weak” and the clergy “recruitment pool is smaller” since the majority of black churches are Pentecostal, Baptist or independent, he said.
The denomination only began serious recruiting efforts for clergy of all races in the past 10 years, Mr. Benz said.
Mr. Askew said the Episcopal Church offers minority scholarships and grants for all ethnic groups, but various circumstances prevent more black clergy—especially in the South—from offering themselves for service.
The Rt. Rev. Arthur B. Williams Jr., assisting bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio and the preacher for the School of Theology service honoring the first black priest, said recruitment of blacks is “no doubt a high priority” for the church.
Ironically, he said, the civil rights movement, which allowed blacks to be considered for leadership positions across the employment spectrum, may have cut into the number willing to consider the clergy.
In addition, Bishop Williams said, the size and influence of many black churches within the denomination have decreased.
They are “not (the) places where young men and women are encouraged to move into ordained ministry as they were years ago,” he said.