Carolyn baskin-bell

As an African American, Christianity has provided a strong foundation for my life. Born into the civil rights movement and parents who promoted faith tradition as an instrumental way of life embeds my core being. Both parents brought strong faith principles to their marriage and our family practiced Christian values within our home. Our household was influenced by a strong work ethic as well as participation in the life of the local church. 

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I am blessed to reflect on my dad who advocated education and service to the Lord. We were instructed to obtain as much education possible; love God, our neighbor and love ourselves.  My Dad was one of the first to affirm my call to preach and become an ordained minister. It was comforting to experience a father’s stamp of approval in a world where the gifts of women are often ignored and oppressed. In today’s climate, there is a clarion call for individuals to affirm the children of the world regardless of the relationship. The call is for those who will advocate love of God, neighbor and self. This Father’s Day stretches beyond a biological connection but a spiritual connection to model and express the importance of love, respect and compassion for one’s self and humankind.

While growing up, I observed the faith community motivating the civil rights era. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King moved on the wings of prayer.  As a child, I remember my uncle allowing me to sit on his shoulders to see this prolific preacher proclaim, “We shall overcome!” That was my first participation in a peaceful demonstration promoting civil rights of humankind. The participants were of all races and faith traditions.   Our church sponsored a bus to the march and it was full to its capacity because the pastor advocated the importance of equality in this nation. Micah 6:9, “What does the Lord require, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” still resonates within me as a result of the teachings of the faith community with the influence of the civil rights movement. 

As an African Methodist Pastor, this faith foundation and the principles of equality and justice offer strength to the ministry I am called to fulfill. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) is the oldest black faith denomination in the United States. The journey began in 1787 as Richard Allen, a 26-year-old minister, and a group of free African slaves were forced from the altar while praying in order to allow the white worshipers to kneel in that space. Rev. Allen responded, “allow us to pray and we will trouble you no more.” 

As a result of this act of racial discrimination, Rev. Richard Allen and the black worshipers left St George Church and launched the African Methodist Episcopal Church. After 235 years of evolving and developing, the AME Church is a faith tradition that continues to contribute to the spiritual, relational, intellectual, social, political and denominational life of the global church.

The foundation of the faith community often influences those who observe and become aware of the history of African Americans in this nation. Knowledge of history also develops understanding of a culture. On June 19, African Americans celebrate Juneteenth. This is a holiday which commemorates the end of slavery in the US. It is also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day and Jubilee Day. The first celebration occurred in 1865 in Texas when the information became known to that region. Today, Juneteenth is a bittersweet commemoration in the lives of many. While we continue to observe the racism, discrimination, injustice and hatred of individuals based upon their ethnicity and background, many pose the question, “what are we celebrating?” The brutal murder of George Floyd awakened and aroused the reality of racism still plaguing the African American community. The tragic attack of Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston continues to grieve our hearts; the recent massacre in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, Texas and the list of tragic and inhumane circumstances increases. In the midst of this struggle to commemorate and celebrate, the faith community offers strength to persevere.

The faith community and the foundation of hope and love ushered my journey to maintain strength in this struggle not only against racism but sexism as well. I am grateful for the foundation of faith that was laid by my parents. My family and affiliation with the faith community encouraged me to stay afloat and continue to soar above racist and sexist experiences that attempted to block my journey. I maintained 30 years in my first career as a Speech Language Pathologist, where African Americans are a minority. It is with joy that I celebrate 26 years in ministry and 16 of those as a pastor in an arena where the leadership is predominantly male. A strong foundation of faith in God sustains and navigates my destiny.

I accept the challenge to promote respect and acceptance of all humankind regardless of their race, gender, faith tradition, lifestyle or background.  Christianity is a “whosoever will” experience based upon unconditional love. Prayer continues to order my steps in order to allow the Light of the Lord to shine in dark places. I embrace my calling to minister to the marginalized; advocate for women and children and to develop individuals as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is a blessing to celebrate a faith foundation that allows me to find strength in the struggle and foster hope for all humankind.

Pastor Carolyn Baskin-Bell is the Senior Pastor of First AME Church, Santa Monica. She was appointed in October 2019 by Bishop Clement W. Fugh.  She is the First female pastor in the life of this 101-year-old church