A Community Standing Stronger Together
By Emma K. Buckles
Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church is a congregation filled with the spirit of God and is constantly encouraging its members to support its community: Birmingham’s West End. This African American congregation was originally located in central Birmingham and played a prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement. After the displacement of the church by the University Hospital, the congregation moved to West End and renewed its focus on community outreach and development.
In a study of the worship services in March 2021, it was clear that Greater Shiloh has prevailed through tumultuous circumstances in the past and will overcome the Covid-19 pandemic together as a congregation. While the church was still operating under Covid-19 restrictions, I could see that Greater Shiloh is a leader among the other African American congregations in the Greater Birmingham area. It focuses a large amount of its attention on its congregation members and the local community found within the West End.
Worshipping at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church
Historically, African American churches are known for their robust, full-bodied responses to worship. This is seen in Greater Shiloh’s congregation’s responses to songs being sung and the word being preached. As an online observer to the services, I was able to hear the responses of “Amen” and “Hallelujah” from within the congregation. The preaching that was offered by Reverend Michael W. Wesley, Jr. in the service held on March 14 was filled emotion and acknowledged by the congregation with full-bodied response. One could recognize the preacher becoming louder and more invested as the teaching of the Word continued. The preaching at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church not only centers around the emotions and feedback of the congregation, but it focuses in on the community of the congregation. Everything about the worship services at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church points to the congregation growing with one another in its spiritual walk with God. The word preached, and the songs sung are used to lift up the congregation to drive deeper into their relationship with God and fight for one another and for their community.
Telos of Community Growth and Spiritual Steadfastness
The worship services held at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on March 14, 21, and 28, 2021, all followed a certain pattern not only in service order but also in an overarching theme that weaved through every part of the services. Worship scholar, L. Edward Phillips refers to this overarching goal as the telos of the service. He sates that “patterns of worship arise to address particular concerns about church life, something the church lacks or is doing poorly” (Phillips 2020, 11). Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church places their largest emphasis on the local community and training up the next generation in the gospel. Lora-Ellen McKinney in Christian Education in the African American Church: A Guide for Teaching Truth states that “people join the church for a variety of reasons, among which are the ability to be part of a community of like believers, to worship God, to learn the teachings of Christ, and to gain guidance for [their] lives” (McKinney 2003, 2).
In the March 14 service, announcements occurred at two different points. One presentation of the announcements occurred with a video with sound overlay. This video informed the congregation on everything from Covid-19 vaccinations to choir practice in the upcoming week. After the video announcements, senior pastor, Rev. Michael W. Wesley, Sr., made his way to the pulpit to reemphasize these notices. Rev. Wesley made sure to repeat the announcements about Covid-19 and talk about scholarships available for graduating seniors. This sharing of announcements allowed the congregation to rest in this community of like believers and engage with one another.
Rev. Wesley also made several personal connections with the congregation letting them in on recent experiences including the reasoning for not preaching this particular Sunday. Rev. Wesley announced his son would be bringing the word. This message was meant to be used for ministry training because Wesley Jr. would be ordained by the church in the following weeks. It is through these examples that the telos of the service becomes clear: community growth and spiritual steadfastness. It is the goal of the church to engage in the local community and keep one another accountable as well as prepare their hearts in Christ for the world ahead of them. Because of the history of Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and the church’s denominational background, the telos of community growth and spiritual steadfastness addresses the vision of the church and its values of love, wisdom, truth, and service.
Standing Stronger Together
I found this community orientation of Greater Shiloh quite compelling. When diving further into their website and engaging in conversation with their senior pastor, the church’s dedication to the betterment and development of the community of West End and the next generation astounded me. The church runs several non-profits aside from its ministerial work. This helps keep their local community ever at heart. The emphasis the congregation places on its members stood out to me as the principle of community weaved its way through the entire working of the church. Greater Shiloh uses its history and current social climate in West End to shape the content of worship as the collective personal story of its community and place (Ruth 2002). Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist can teach other churches that community is important and the immediate needs of one’s congregation must be addressed in order to grow alongside one another is their spiritual steadfastness toward union with God.
Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church
Location: 2135 Jefferson Avenue SW Birmingham, Al. 35211
Services Observed: Sunday Morning Worship, March 7, 14, and 21, 2021
Video Archives: Greater Shiloh Media. YouTube.
“Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.” Accessed April 30, 2021. https://greatershiloh.org/.
McKinney, Lora-Ellen. 2003. Christian Education in the African American Church: A Guide for Teaching Truth. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
Phillips, L. Edward. 2020. The Purpose, Pattern, & Character of Worship. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Ruth, Lester. 2002. “A Rose by Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Protestant Worship.” In The Conviction of Things Not Seen: Worship and Ministry in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Todd E. Johnson, 33-51. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.
Emma K. Buckles ‘22 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2021.
Published May 21, 2021.