Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray, John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at the University of Southern California / Passing the Mantle Co-Principal Investigator gives lecture.
USC Clergy and Lay Leadership Institute
By Niele Anderson
Sentinel Religion Editor
During the 1950’s the church was the voice against in-justice and the Mohammad Ali of Civil Rights. It’s Sunday morning services not only spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ but one of its primary roles was fighting for social justice. The church was the dominant force in the Civil Rights movement and was in part why minorities have the right to vote today.
Over the past 40 years those same values and liberties that the church fought so hard for have allowed the church and its members to become complacent in many ways.
In 2006, USC launched a new program dedicated to passing on knowledge from senior African American church leaders to the next generation of Los Angeles clergy and congregational leaders.
Passing the Mantle, supported by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation and administered by USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC), is an eight-session course that trains a cohort of 30 Black leaders in the basics of economic development, community organizing and church leadership. Participants, in this certificate program, attend a series of seminars and public lectures, receiving one-on-one mentorship from senior clergy.
The Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, holder of the John R. Tansey Chair in Christian Ethics, directs the project. Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray headed one of Los Angeles’ most visible churches, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, presiding over more than 18,000 parishioners and a staff of as many as 180. His visionary leadership earned him respect far beyond the four walls of the church and assisted the community with day-to-day needs and life issues.
“This is important because the essence of the struggle for Black equity is based in the Black church,” Murray said. “It was the first economic base, it’s the first communication base, first educational base to this day. If you want to affect the larger Black community, your point of contact will ultimately include the church.”
The program is also under the leadership of Donald Miller, Firestone Professor of Religion and Executive Director of the CRCC, he serves as Principal investigator, Rev. Mark Whitlock and Rev. Eugene Williams serve as Co- Directors.
The program provides vision and practical training for the next generation of African American clergy and lay leaders. The program is designed to equip pastors, clergy, faith-based nonprofit leaders, and church board members for better mission conceptualization, civic engagement models, strategic planning, and partnership building with the public and private sector. The program creates a learning environment with leading practitioners, politicians, and professors who are engaged in areas related to civic engagement and community development.
“The African American church finds itself at a crossroads of relevance and irrelevance,” the Rev. Eugene Williams, co-director of the program stated. “The church has prospered,” said Rev. Whitlock, “but neighborhoods surrounding them have not. The churches must go beyond the walls.”
There are programs similar to USC’s Passing the Mantle, including Harvard’s Summer Leadership Institute, which was a model for Passing the Mantle. But the West Coast program adds a mentor component, which will continue after the course ends.
The Passing the Mantle program is currently accepting applications. The deadline to apply is May 24. If you have any questions you can call 213 740-8562 or 213 740-3560.