UPON THIS ROCK by Samuel G. Freedman


The Miracles of a Black Church
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 Freedman (Journalism/Columbia), author of the acclaimed Small Victories (1990), about the tribulations of an N.Y.C. English teacher, turns his attention to a Brooklyn minister and his can-do church--with riveting results. When the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood assumed leadership of St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York--the most violent neighborhood in the city--his parishioners numbered 84. Fifteen years later, the church counts 5,000 members and a full-time staff of 51. What made the difference? Above all, Youngblood's skill in attracting African-American males, who traditionally drop off their women at the church door. Youngblood developed a ministry ``that builds a nation by building a family, that builds a family by telling a man to act like a man.'' There were other innovations, too: tithing, buying up neighborhood buildings, establishing groups for ex-convicts and ex-addicts, etc. This is an activist ministry, bootstrap religion--and the results speak for themselves, in hundreds of reclaimed lives. Freedman, sensibly, lets Youngblood and his followers do all the preaching. Incredible stories abound, from that of a junkie who pulls himself into dignity to that of the church's only white member, who turns from despair to hope with Youngblood's encouragement. The minister, too, undergoes a redemption, acknowledging the son he fathered out of wedlock while a young man in New Orleans. Freedman recounts Youngblood's life history, as well as that of the church and the neighborhood, but all this is icing. The cake is the joyous, fighting life of the congregation as it sings, prays, begs, yells, and loves, proclaiming the message of liberation, which Freedman calls the essence of African-American spirituality. The legacy of Martin Luther King in all its glory, and more proof that the struggle for social justice may have religion at its core.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-016610-X
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992


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