Pentecostals Dress like Catholic Bishops

Article excerpt

High-Church group says garb is linked to its African heritage

WASHINGTON - At first glance, they appear to be Catholic bishops.

They wear Roman collars around their necks, and they recite the Nicene creed, a profession of faith heard in Catholic Masses and many other Christian liturgies. When the bishops prepare for worship services, a Catholic manual is their reference.

But these clerics are neither Catholic nor even High-Church Episcopalians. Instead, they are part of a small, rapidly emerging movement within the African-American church known as High-Church Pentecostalism, a trend that is reshaping a portion of black religion in America.

The movement is led by three denominations: the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ and the Pilgrim Assemblies International, both 5 years old: and the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, which is 2 years old. Bishops of the three groups met in Washington in late January for the first Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops.

"Traditionally ... the Pentecostal church maintained its ardor but was never really known for its order," said Bishop J. Delano Ellis II. president of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ. "What we're discovering ... is that order is not blasphemous. Order best represents God."

As Ellis suggests, the Pentecostal church has always been known for it emotional fervor, not its formal style of worship. But the three African-American denominations are crossing the liturgical aisle and adding vestments, chalices and other traditions of Anglicans and kindred denominations.

In addition, they're shedding the academic-looking robes found in most black churches for priestly garments they say have links to their African heritage.

And unlike many Pentecostal denominations, they've moved past theological differences to form a network free of the rancor and factionalism that historically have marked the movement since its founding in 1906.

"We've had so many Pentecostal splinter groups that are here today and gone tomorrow," said Sherry DuPree, a researcher and author on African-American religion. "I think (the High-Church Pentecostals) are trying to bring about an order where one would know exactly who you are and what you mean."

The High-Church Pentecostal movement is significant because it marks a departure from the style and dogma that long have defined most African-American Pentecostal churches.

"Many of the old organizations that we were linked to as presiders unfortunately had not moved with the times," said Bishop Eric D. Garnes, senior pastor of Tabernacle of Praise Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

For example, he said, many traditional black churches do not allow women to preach - a practice the High-Church Pentecostals embrace. "We enjoy hearing females deliver the word of God," said Garnes, who is affiliated with the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ. High-Church Pentecostals ordain women ministers, but at the moment there are no women bishops.

So far, the High-Church Pentecostal movement affects only a small percentage of the nation's more than 6 million African-American Pentecostals. …