“Many people are frustrated and hurt in life, but it’s reassuring and is often therapeutic to know that they have someone that is praying for them and is encouraging them constantly,” Pastor Taylor said. “That’s what they find in houses of faith wherever they may be. They find people like them, people with similar life experiences, people that go through similar struggles and challenges.”
That is why Pastor Taylor tailors his messages to address his congregation’s needs. He said that while a faith-based message is important, preaching to the churchgoers’ everyday lives opens up their hearts and minds to his sermon.
“Here at Springhill Church, we try to do things that also support community. So, if a church is doing the work properly, the church will try and figure out what the needs are in that community and how the church can support the community in the best way possible,” Taylor said. “Because at the end of the day, we’re there to help people.”
This community-driven philosophy underlines the extended-family notion that many have about the church. In “It’s a white thing” religion and suicide in the African-American community, a thesis by UF graduate Kevin Eugene Early, the intertwined nature of the black church and black family is explored in great detail.
“The extended family has been a significant element in both the survival and advancement of black Americans,” Early said in his thesis. “Getting together for religious services was one of the few reasons slaves were allowed to congregate. Hence, the influence of the extended family has provided conditions within which primary socialization and the influence of religion occurred.”
Black slaves assumed a strong allegiance to church before the Emancipation Proclamation gave them their freedom. Rather than severing ties to all reminders of their past slave life (including the church), many African Americans reclaimed their identity and expressed their new freedom by keeping their faith alive. For a group of former slaves from Camden, South Carolina, this meant establishing a church in Gainesville, Florida.
According to Mt. Pleasant United Methodist church’s website, in 1867, the church’s founders bought the land on which Mt. Pleasant sits on for $160. Today, the church is recognized as the oldest black church in Gainesville. Built by black carpenters and artisans, the church remains a symbol of black fortitude and history in Gainesville.
With over 130 years of service to the Gainesville community, Springhill Missionary Baptist Church is another church that takes pride in its longevity. La’Kendra Garrison, head of the communications ministry at Springhill, likens the role of the black church in the black community to home base on a baseball field.
“We try to create an environment that people will feel comfortable in. I don’t ever want folks to feel so comfortable in the House of God that they do any and every thing that they would normally do,” Smith said. “But, I want it so that when you walk through the door, you feel the atmosphere of a place you want to come back to.”
Smith, 46, has been leading the congregation at Emanuel Baptist since 2013. He grew up going to St. Peter Baptist Church in Archer, Florida. Rev. DeWayne McBride, the presiding pastor at St. Peter’s, spoke at Smith’s installation service at Emanuel. Smith said that the church community isn’t bound to one’s home church - the community extends to all churches that preach God’s word from the Bible. The inclusivity of the black church community inspires Smith to carry on the passionately human culture he has experienced in his missionary journey.