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Archbishop Lyke Conference celebrates gifts that Black Catholics bring to liturgies and ministries

A liturgical dancer participates in the July 6 closing Mass at the Archbishop Lyke Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Just before the July 6 closing Mass for the Archbishop Lyke Conference that seeks to enrich liturgies and ministries and promote evangelization at parishes serving Black Catholics, Andrew Lyke reflected on the legacy of his uncle for whom the conference was named.

Archbishop James Patterson Lyke, a member of the Franciscan order, served as a parish priest in Memphis, Tennessee, as an auxiliary bishop in Cleveland and as the archbishop of Atlanta before he died of cancer in 1992. Eight years earlier, he had coordinated the writing of What We Have Seen and Heard, a pastoral letter of the nation’s black bishops, and he also coordinated the African American Catholic hymnal Lead Me, Guide Me, which was published in 1987.

“He was one that loved the liturgy,” Andrew Lyke said in an interview with the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. “He believed very strongly that when we bring the drama of the Roman liturgy with the passion of Black spirituality, it’s just a powerful experience.”

The conference's printed program, summarizing Archbishop Lyke's legacy, noted, “he strove to bring the riches of Catholicism to African Americans and the riches of his black heritage to the Catholic Church.”

The Archbishop Lyke Conference began in 2004. This year’s conference was held July 2-6 near Washington, D.C., in National Harbor, Maryland, and was held in conjunction with the Father Clarence Rivers Music Institute, named for a Catholic priest who died in 2004 and was a noted composer of liturgical music whose work combined Roman Catholic worship with traditional African American music.

Women pray during the closing Mass at the Archbishop Lyke Conference. About 370 people from across the country participated in the July 2-6 conference on Black Catholic worship and ministries. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The gathering’s theme was “Every Knee Shall Bend: Reconciliation, Black and Catholic.” Workshops tied that theme into a variety of topics, including Black spirituality and Negro spirituals. Some programs were offered for young adults, music ministers and liturgical dancers. One of the workshops was titled “Black and Catholic: Our Gift of Blackness to the Whole Church,” and another examined the U.S. bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.”

Other sessions looked at “Praying Quietly in a LOUD world!” and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Workshops also dealt with specific ministries like proclaiming God’s word at Mass. Andrew Lyke and his wife Terri, who are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Joliet, Illinois, and are leaders in marriage preparation, education and enrichment, led a session on “Reconciliation at Home: Sacramental Echoes in the Domestic Church.”

“We’re training ministers of liturgy. We’re coming together. We celebrate our roles, and we’re sent off to do our job, just to make worship significant and meaningful and to help communities thrive,” said Richard Cheri, the executive director of the Lyke Foundation that supports the operations of the conference.

Cheri, who serves as the director of music and worship at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in New Orleans, noted, “…This is the only conference intentionally focused on ministry to African Americans (in the Catholic Church).”

Challenges that the Catholic Church faces in the black community include “losing people to mega-churches… and keeping our youth present, involved and active in the Church,” Cheri said.

The Archbishop Lyke Conference drew about 370 people from 32 dioceses, including 110 people who sang in the conference choir. Participants included music ministers, lectors, hospitality ministers and Eucharistic ministers at parishes serving Black Catholics.

“Everyone has a chance to share their gift,” said Cheri, who added that people leave the conference “with a sense of what is possible in their ministries.”

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory accepts the offertory gifts at the closing Mass for the Archbishop Lyke Conference. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

At a July 4 morning prayer session at the conference, Father David Jones, the pastor of St. Benedict the African Parish in Chicago, said that in a world that struggles for forgiveness, God calls people to reconcile with each other.

“This is a God who is trying to bring us back together again,” said Father Jones. “…We need to remember, the work of reconciliation is God’s work.”

Speaking of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest said God “desires to rid us of our sin… so we can be free to do what God needs done.”

That morning, Ansel Augustine, formerly the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, led a workshop on “Finding Jesus in the Midst of Your Paperwork: Reconciling Busyness with Ministry.”

“We need to keep Jesus in the midst of everything we do,” he said.

Augustine said that growing up in New Orleans, he was inspired by the outreach of his parish priest and a Sister of the Holy Family and eventually followed their example and worked with youth in his neighborhood.

“For me, one of the hardest things in youth ministry is having to bury our young people or visit them in jail. You think you’re a failure,” he said, and recalled consoling words spoken to him by his priest mentor who said, “It’s not about you. It’s about what God does through you.”

At his workshop, a woman who does foster care ministry in Denver said, “I feel like God is working through me.” A woman who works in cultural ministry in Pennsylvania said the goal of her work is to be a bridge among cultures and her diocese, and to get the people whom she serves “closer to Jesus.” And a woman who works in campus ministry in South Carolina added, “My outcome is for them to have faith in God and faith in themselves.”

On July 5, conference participants visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., where some of the exhibits highly the central role of faith in the lives of African Americans throughout the nation’s history, including in the struggle for civil rights.

Richard Cheri, the executive director of the Lyke Foundation that supports the annual Archbishop Lyke Conference, leads the conference choir and congregation in singing at the July 6 closing Mass. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Interviewed between sessions at the conference, participants said the gathering rejuvenated their faith.

“It’s a time when we as Black Catholics can come together in the universal Church to praise God, to be around fellow Christians, to just be in a spirit of grace and mercy and celebrate God’s presence in our lives,” said Lynné Gray, the music director for St. Anthony Parish in Washington who also serves as the director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Gospel Mass Choir.

Nancy Gordon, a member of the Gospel Choir at St. Augustine Parish in Washington, said, “It reinforces the things you know and love about being both Black and Catholic. It reinforces your faith. It makes you want to live your life in a better way.”

Debra Theard of St. Mary of the Angels Parish in New Orleans aid she was inspired by the faith of the conference’s participants. “They truly believe there is a God, and we are here to give praise, thanks and glory to Him.”

Barbara Lane of St. Augustine of Hippo Parish in Belleville, Illinois, said, “I just enjoy our style of worship, I really do. I think we draw the Holy Spirit. Sometime I’ve been to churches where I think the Holy Spirit is scared to come in.”

The gathering’s closing Mass on July 6 began with a joyous hymn, “This is the Day the Lord has Made,” sung by the conference choir. They clapped and sang as about a dozen liturgical dancers preceded the opening procession.

Welcoming the conference participants, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the main celebrant, said, “No matter where we come from, we belong to the Lord.”

Archbishop Gregory gives Communion to a girl at the closing Mass for the Archbishop Lyke Conference. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The concelebrants at the Mass included New Orleans Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri, who is a Franciscan Friar, and the music ministry was led by Kenneth Louis, the minister of music at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Atlanta who formerly served at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington.

In his homily, Dominican Father Jeffery Ott – the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Atlanta – said, “We are called to celebrate Christ’s presence with us, in this moment… That means we are called to be a freed people in Christ, liberated by the saving grace of the Gospel.”

Concluding his homily, the priest said, “As we leave this conference, we are commissioned to go in Christ’s name, to be Christ’s light, to be reconcilers in our work and ministry, to lift up the name of Christ in all we say and do.”

After Communion, it was announced that the 2020 Archbishop Lyke Conference will be held from June 16-20 at Xavier University in New Orleans. The Lyke Foundation’s Melchizedek Award in the shape of an African drum was presented to Vickie and Sherbie Matthews, who have served as choir members and directors, cantors and pastoral liturgists at parishes in Dallas.

The Mass ended as it had begun, with a joyful hymn sung by the conference choir. 

Participants at the Archbishop Lyke Conference sing together during the gathering's closing Mass. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Interviewed afterward, Terri Lyke said that the gathering would inspire participants to “share the gift of Black Catholic spirituality” when they returned home to their parishes.

Andrew Lyke, reflecting on the impact that he felt from this year’s conference named for his uncle, Archbishop Lyke, said its theme of reconciliation resonated with him.

“I bring that home with me, to be more resolved to be a reconciling presence in my family, my community and my church,” he said.

Liturgical dancers participate in the July 6 closing Mass for the Archbishop Lyke Conference. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)