Shrine of the Black Madonna
The church's central theological belief is that God supports the freedom of African Americans from all forms of oppression. Jesus is called the "Black Messiah." The Hebrew nation of the Bible is understood to be a black nation. While Jesus is viewed as the savior of black people, he is also seen as the savior of all humankind. He who supports all struggles for liberation.
The congregations were named after the Black Madonna to make emphasize the point to members that the mother of Jesus was black, to recognize other images of the Black Madonna that are worshipped around the world, and to honor black women. Belief in a black savior and madonna helps to counteract the damage of what the denomination calls AMBI: acceptance of the myth of black inferiority.
In 1975 around forty members (all between the ages of eighteen and thirty) left Detroit to found a new congregation in Atlanta. By 1996 Shrine 9 had approximately 500 members. After leadership changes during that year, and the death of the founder in February 2000, the membership declined to approximately 200 members by 2001. However, the membership is still very active and committed to maintaining their its traditions and the vision of their its founder.
Worship services combine elements from Roman Catholic, charismatic, and African traditions. The congregation observes eleven sacraments. The Eucharist is practiced as the "Sacrament of Commitment." The emphasis of this ritual is upon committing oneself to serve sacrificially and to walk in the steps of Jesus.
Training in the arts of Pa-Kua, which includes such ancient practices as meditation, yoga, and tai chi chuan, helps members of Pan African Orthodox congregations to integrate their minds, bodies, and spirits. This integration is deemed necessary in order to heal the long-term fragmentation in the black communities resulting from the traumas of slavery and oppression.
One of the shrine's main concerns is the Beulah Land Farm Project. The goals of this Shrine-owned farm in Abbeville County, South Carolina, are to provide food for urban communities and to open a retreat center and a boarding school on the land. The Beulah Land Farm Project embodies the shrine's values of self-sufficiency and communal living for African Americans.
Marsha Foster Boyd, Self-Help in the Shrine of the Black Madonna #9 in Atlanta, Georgia: A Study of a Congregation and Its Leadership (Ph.D. diss., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif., 1995).
Jennie Sykes Knight, Emory University
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.