A Review of Honoring African American Elders: A Ministry in the Soul Community by Anne Streaty


Honoring African American Elders: A Ministry in the Soul Community. Anne Streaty Wimberly, editor. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997, 185 pages, a Preface, References, and Index.

[1] Honoring African American Elders: A Ministry in the Soul Community, I found to be an interesting book. The title in essence captures the editor's intent to cause the readers to reflect on community. I feel the author is reaching out to African Americans, especially young folks who do not claim, respect or adequately learn from the foundation provided by their elders.

[2] This was accomplished through the author's use of various essays to bring this message home. The book emerges from an Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC is the world's largest African American seminary located in Atlanta, Georgia) participation in the Georgia Multidisciplinary Center for Gerontology for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The faculty team's participation in this project led to efforts to develop a curriculum in gerontology for seminary students.

[3] The book is divided into two parts. The first part, which includes four chapters, is devoted to the cultural and religious basis for giving honor to elders in the African and African American community. Three chapters written by the editor (a Christian educator) and one chapter written by an African biblical scholar seek to define honor and community, provide a biblical and African basis for understanding what is meant by elders, and propose a model for ministry that focuses on the elders. Especially gripping were the stories of Janice Gresham about her congregational program Reaching Out to Senior Adults (ROSA) in Chapter 4 and the use of Howard Thurman's discussion on commitment in Chapter 3. Dr. Temba Mafico's words on elderhood in traditional Africa serve as mechanisms for commentary on the traditions and mores one finds in the African American religious community.

[4] The second part of the book focuses on the practice of ministry in the soul community. The "soul community," earlier defined as the way of being found in African American congregations (p. 10-12), is central in bestowing honor on African American elders. In six chapters, written by a professor of sociology of religion, a professor of pastoral care and counseling, and a Christian educator, the reader is introduced to and led to reflect on how to honor and include elders in the life of the soul community. The call in this section of the book is to develop ways of including the resourcefulness and wisdom of the elders in the church as a soul community. These could include, but are not limited to, the elders' roles as "storytellers, Bible interpreters, and guides in practical wisdom in the ritual life of the church as a soul community" (p. 171).

[5] I offer an example of how the editor's purpose relates to my experience. First Baptist Church in my hometown of Princeton, New Jersey claimed as its own Deacon Norman Whiting's spirit-filled insightful prayers and Ms. Dicey May Robinson's touching testimonials about how God has moved in her life, and these people are brought to mind by the book. These reflections show the importance of retaining and constantly gleaning from collective memories of our community elders, who are indeed the repository of the communal memory, the history and the faith story that is foundational and the very grounding of our own ministries.

[6] Michael Dyson in his book Reflecting Black: African American Cultural Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993) reminds us that recalling our roots is an ethical imperative, something not to be lost. When we remember our community traditions we tap into some deep truths about life that are both crucial and instrumental for our survival. If we lose touch with these values and embrace only the values of some of the young members of our community, we find that they want to leave the soul out of community and put the 'I,' 'Me,' or 'My' into community.

[7] I suggest this book could be used as a text for counseling or sociology majors, Christian education courses, seminary pastoral care and counseling courses, a parish Adult Sunday School Forum or as a resource for anyone in ministry. The questions for reflection included at the end of each chapter are one of its strengths.

[8] We must always be an intergenerational community; that's where the community vision comes from, that vision which guides us and without which a people would perish.


© August 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 2, Issue 8