Feb 27, 2024 | John W. Coleman

A number of Eastern PA churches, especially in Philadelphia, saved the best for last by culminating their Black History Month celebrations on the last Sunday of February. There were oral and visual presentations of African diaspora history and culture, remarkable displays of art and artifacts, themed sermons and liturgy, Spirituals and gospel music performances, even Black Christian comedy, and much more.

Philadelphia is the birthplace of the oldest continuing Black Methodist congregation, 230-year-old Mother African Zoar, which later birthed several other Black Methodist churches, thereby earning its maternal monicker. Zoar’s celebration featured a fellowship meal with a Black History Month quiz and a Christian comedian’s performance after worship on Sunday.

Meanwhile, one of Mother Zoar’s offspring churches, historic Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, partnered with the Marian Anderson Museum and Historical Society February 25 to pay tribute to their two iconic namesakes: founding pastor the Rev. Charles A. Tindley and Black international opera star Marian Anderson. The “pop-up Black History exhibition,” titled “Faith Music & Community celebrated their lives, their faith—a cornerstone of their lives—and the communities they impacted and uplifted.

At Tindley Temple UMC, music and dance highlighted the February 25 tribute to two icons of American music, vocalist Marian Anderson and hymnwriter the Rev. Charles A. Tindley. Several of Anderson’s gowns (seen in the background) were among the artifacts exhibited.
The Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster III photos

The exhibit featured live recordings, photographs, programs and treasured garments belonging to Marian Anderson and Dr. Tindley, as well as viewings of mini-video documentaries and live re-enactment performances of their works. Since music was central to both of their careers and their contributions, it was central to this celebration as well, including singing and dance. Learn more about the Marian Anderson Museum and Historical Society at www.marianandersonhistoricalsociety.weebly.com.

The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center performance space will be renamed Marian Anderson Hall June 8, thanks to a major donation, it was announced this week.

Grace United Methodist Church continued its 27th annual, monthlong celebration with a focus on African, Caribbean and Black American history and culture in the arts. Throughout February, they:

The Rev. Steven Pitman (right), Grace UMC’s pastor, and other men received lessons on the design and wearing of traditional West African garments. Rosalind McKelvey photo
  • explored and sang Negro Spirituals during Sunday services;
  • learned about a church family’s seven-month visit to Ghana, West Africa;
  • taught men the when, why and how of wearing traditional West African garments;
  • taught women how to wrap the popular Gele headdresses, Nigerian-style;
  • learned about African naming rituals, based on birth days of the week, and used the occasion to raise funds to support ministry; and
  • ended the special month Sunday with a festive program featuring cultural legacy cuisine, guest speakers and members who shared stories from their family histories. They also created a pop-up museum to exhibit curated African diaspora arts from members’ personal collections, including paintings and sculptures.
Rosalind McKelvey photo

Grace’s Deaf Outreach Ministry, which interprets worship and Sunday School, taught about Black Deaf church leaders, like missionary Andrew Foster, and about African American music and struggles and triumphs in church and society.

Bickley’s New Beginning and Mount Zion United Methodist churches also celebrated Black history all month with oral presentations and the music of Spirituals and gospel during worship, as members wore African-style apparel.

Bickley’s New Beginning offered its members and guests “four Sundays of inspirational, encouraging and educational presentations,” that featured:

  • The Montford Point Marines, the first African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps who overcame dehumanizing segregation.
  • Cathay Williams, the first African American female soldier to enlist and serve in the Army in the 19th century, who was the only known black female member of the revered Buffalo Soldiers.
  • Henry Ossawa Tanner, renowned African American artist who attended Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
  • James Forten, a famous, pioneering American abolitionist, freedom-fighter and successful businessman in Philadelphia, recently honored in a Museum of the American Revolution special exhibit.
African-American artifacts on display at Grace UMC’s pop-up museum. Rosalind McKelvey photo
Among other churches in and beyond Philadelphia that celebrated Black History Month was Messiah UMC in Lafayette Hill, which hosted a concert, Feb. 25, featuring (from top-left) revered, longtime Tindley Temple music director Theodore Thomas, soloists Carolyn Bolger Payne and Shango-Jamal Lewis, and the Faith Ensemble of Wharton-Wesley UMC in Philadelphia. William Thompson photos

If your church—wherever it is located—celebrated Black History Month in special ways, please send us information and photos to communications@epaumc.church, so we can add your celebration to this article. Thank you.