Making Black Catholic History Today: Black Catholic Interviews 4 – My Interview of Medene Presley: Convert, Student, Man on a Journey
Original Black Catholic Interviews for Black Catholic History Month 2019 article synopsis:
On Thursdays this month I have featured interviews of Black Catholics done by others to showcase how Black Catholic history is being made by the lives of those living today. Now in this last week of Black Catholic History Month I want to fully try out the original idea I have my head for a while – conducting my own original interviews of fellow Black Catholics. During this month I interviewed two people, both converts to the Church and online friends of mine, and asked them questions about their own experience being Black Catholics and their own faith life. I also asked them about other issues such as inculturation and reaching out to other African Americans who might be interested in the Church. I conducted this interview entirely by text, as in I sent them questions by message and later received their responses. Some of the questions overlap and others focused on the specific person. I was going for a magazine style of interview.
The these last two particular interviews will be a sort of test case for a potential new article-series featuring my own original interviews with Black Catholics that could be started in the future (I don’t know when yet). These two interviews will be a test for this type of content both to see if you guys would want to see more of this and to see how well I can produce this type of content as well. So, I would definitely appreciate your feedback on this one. There may be more test cases of like these in the future. Anyway, here is the second interview.
Making Black Catholic History Today: Black Catholic Interviews 4
My Interview with Medene Presley
Convert, Student, Man on a Journey
Black Catholic History Month, November 2019
Medene Presley is friend I met directly through my BLACKCATHOLIC apostolate work in the fall of last year. My apostolate’s presence on Facebook led to him to reach out to me about the Catholic faith while he was on the tail’s end of a long journey to the Church that took him from the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) to the Episcopal Church and finally Catholicism. When Medene contacted me he was second-year seminarian studying to be an Episcopal priest. Now, after coming into the Church earlier this year at Easter he is looking to enter formation for the Catholic priesthood in the future. He is a budding Black Catholic scholar and is currently obtaining a Master’s of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. I conducted this interview online during November 2019 for my series featuring Black Catholic interviews for Black Catholic History Month, Making Black Catholic History Today: Black Catholic Interviews. This is the fourth and final installment for this month’s special celebration and the second of my two original interviews.
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We dove right into a discussion about Black Catholicism and his own faith life.
BLACKCATHOLIC [BC]: What does it mean to be a Black Catholic?
Medene Presley [MP]: It means that I am living into the fullness of the Christian faith through the lens and experience of a 20th – 21st century African-American.
BC: Describe your Black Catholic devotional life. Do favorite black saint/holy one not yet canonized or inspired by one?
MP: My favorite is St. Athanasius! His work on the incarnation of God was theologically transformative for me. He was also the saint name I took with me into confirmation within the Church. I do need to expand my devotional life around Black saints and holy people though
“Moreover, I want to re-present the faith to Black people. There is a difficult history of racism there, but I want to help encourage Black people that the Catholic Church is their church too and that there truly is a spiritual home for them here.“
Next, we moved on to Medene’s own experience of being an African American Catholic, and during our discussion he mentioned aspect of his jou
BC: All throughout my six years being an African American Catholic it has always been the case that whenever I enter a Catholic church for Mass I might just be the only African American there, with the except of historical Black Catholic parishes. For some fellow Black Catholics this might have been a source of anxiety to overcome in their journey. And for some our Black brothers and sisters who are not Catholic that end up visiting a Catholic church (maybe even looking at joining the Church) this may be an obstacle. Has it ever been difficult walking into a Catholic church as a minority, most likely being the only African American there for Mass?
MP: It is difficult, not so much because I feel out of place (even though that’s a part of it), but because I so desperately want to see more people like me reflected in the worship and life of the church. Moreover, I want to re-present the faith to Black people. There is a difficult history of racism there, but I want to help encourage Black people that the Catholic Church is their church too and that there truly is a spiritual home for them here. The anxiety of that pursuit bothers me the most. I’ve also grown in my liturgical life to know that it’s not just enough to bring Black folks into the physical building, but its even more important to include the tradition of Black Church into the Catholic Church without cultural violence. Again, the anxiety in that pursuit is what saddens me most. Although, I will say that the Catholic Church does a much better job at inculturation than my experience in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
BC: Some Black Catholics (especially in the past during tougher racial times) have felt alone, isolated, and even discriminated against in the Church, which can feel intensified given they might be one of the very few African Americans in their particular church community. Have you ever felt that way? Can you describe your overall experience being in the Church as a Black Catholic?
MP: There are three main qualities to my experience as a Black Catholic: (1). Rich History – contrary to popular belief, there is a wealth of contribution by people of African descent to the Catholic Church (from Popes to parishioners). Learning that history has inspired me. (2) Freedom in Worship – of the few Black Catholic churches I have attended, they remind me of Black Protestantism in their worship and music style–a good thing. Historically, major Protestants have allowed for Black folk to “have church” how we have church without much, if any, supervision or cultural over-sight, and I thought that would be different in the Catholic, but not so much. I’m experiencing lots of freedom in worship (while remaining authentically Catholic). (3). Accurate – everyone that asks me, I tell them the same thing, I finally feel accurate in my Christian tradition. When I was in COGIC, I loved the culture of the Church, but didn’t care for the theology (I didn’t experience God/Christ as fully revealed within the faith). When I was in the Episcopal Church, I couldn’t stand the culture, but I enjoyed how expansive the theology was, until I realized that it had no clear, established, or willful boundaries. The Catholic Church offers me a perfect mix and blend of worship and community culture; the FULLEST presentation in Christian theology (its almost too much), and the most clear revelation of God in Christ to live further into.
“I couldn’t deny the Black Church Tradition anymore than I could deny my own self and soul.“
BC: Have you heard of/seen African American inculturation into Catholic liturgical life (elements of “Black Church” worship/Gospel music introduced in the Mass)? How do you feel about it?
MP: I touched on that a bit already. Yes, I have, and I’m thankful for it. I could not survive if that element of worship was not welcome and active. It’s ingredient to all of who I am and would NOT negotiate or compromise on that point for anyone. I couldn’t deny the Black Church Tradition anymore than I could deny my own self and soul. I am the Black Church Tradition, alive and in full effect (from the Pentecostal side of town)! Haha!
BC: If there is an African American reading this interview right now and they’re considering joining the Catholic faith but they’re not really sure, what message do you have for them?
MP: Jump in and the saints will show you how to swim! I would give them the advice you gave me: If you truly want to be Catholic, you will run to the church like a deer running to the water brook. Just jump in! The waters are nice and easy, not too many waves. Oh, and the pool is BIG! LOL [+JMJ]
A big thank you to Medene for letting me interview him!
Header image: Ethiopian depiction of the resurrected Jesus; Public Domain.
Recent Black Catholic History Month 2019 Posts
This week’s featured Black saint/holy one: Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman
This week’s Let ’em Speak On It: Quote from 1984 Pastoral Letter from U.S. Black Catholic Bishops
This week’s earlier featured original Black Catholic interview: My Interview with Randy Shed: Catholic Convert, Family Man, and Army Officer