“Steal Away To Jesus” was one of the “code” songs that the enslaved might use to notify each other of the secret meetings.
Amidst the decline of institutional religion, communities of spiritual activism that center historically marginalized persons are emerging across the US independent from and on the edges of traditional religious institutions. As leaders of several of these communities, we are launching Liberating Church, a project seeking the wisdom of the antebellum hush harbors to ground our work in the present and future. Hush harbors were clandestine meetings, away from the plantation system and plantation church, where enslaved Africans would gather to worship and organize for personal and political transformation, rooted in a blending of their native religious beliefs and practices with Christianity. As the North American church grapples with an eroding position of privilege in society, how do the hush harbors offer a decolonizing vision of church from the margins? In what ways did the antebellum hush harbors function as expressions of church? Where are the contemporary hush harbors within the US?
● Engage in literature review on hush harbors
● Engage in literature review on decolonial theory
● Engage in auto-ethnographic research at ministry sites in the US amongst marginalized black communities that embody a hush harbors and decolonial approach
● Share research with the public through various written and oral forms of outreach
● Organize partners to encourage, review, and support the project
Phase One (Jan 2018 – Jan 2019) - visioning, received $15k grant from Louisville Institute, build team, draft plan, purchase books
Phase Two (Jan 2019 – Dec 2019) - literature review, ethnographic research, partnerships, data analysis and conclusions, writing retreats, conference planning
Phase Three (Jan 2020 – May 2020) - conclude writing and conference planning, launch published materials, host conference
The end result of this project will be the launch of a book, workshop, curriculum, liturgies/rituals, and a conference. Our longer-term vision is to continue Liberating Church, though the details are unclear. We imagine that our future work could entail forming an organization that curates resources, convenes gatherings, and coaches leaders informed by decolonizing models of church such as the hush harbors and base ecclesial communities of the global South.
Bird – the African tradition of Sankofa
Fire – the powerful Spirit of liberation
(Sankofa means “to go back and get it” referring to reclaiming the ancestral wisdom needed to build the future.)