Detroit black church marks 50th anniversary

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2003

DETROIT (AP) The Shrine of the Black Madonna, a congregation that celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer, says it wants to reach out and increase its ranks by attracting more young people.

''Our basic challenge is making sure we connect with a new generation in a broader way,'' said Jaramogi Menelik Kimathi, the church's holy patriarch.

The shrine originated in 1953 when Congregational minister Albert Cleage Jr. developed an alternative form of Christianity for black Americans. The current name was adopted in 1967 when Cleage unveiled a painting of the Black Madonna. The shrine is affiliated with the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church.

Cleage, who adopted the name Jaramogi Abede Agyemon and died in 2000, wanted to ''view Christianity through the lens of black people'' and was often criticized, said Yvonne Chireau, religion chair at Swarthmore College. ''He said Jesus was black. He said that God was black.''

The shrine reports some 50,000 members nationally, including 20,000 in metropolitan Detroit. It sponsors congregations in Atlanta and Houston, along with a 3,000-acre farm in South Carolina.

A political group launched by the church helped elect Coleman Young as Detroit's first black mayor, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his mother U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (who joined the shrine in 1967) and U.S. Rep. John Conyers.

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