By Laura Blackwell, St. Cyprian Parish

I have never been in the army, but after spending a week at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, I feel I know what it is like to be in boot camp.  The Institute is kind of like basic training for the army of the Lord.

It was established in the late sixties to train Black clergy, religious and lay people to minister to the black community.   It also offers the only interdisciplinary master’s degree program of its kind. Next year it will celebrate its fortieth anniversary.  Over those years its faculty has included such illustrious figures as Fr. Cyprian Davis, Sr. Thea Bowman, and Father Bede Abrams.

This was my second year, and as usual the recruits were kept busy from morning until night.  We had classes, praise services, drumming sessions, cultural presentations, Masses, dancing, marches and one paper after another.  I met people from places all around the country and from Africa.  I did things I have never done before.  What, was I doing in front of the church leading a prayer service?  How come I was up there giving the reflection?  I never sang in or danced in public before.  I got different viewpoints on social issues in different cities. I did a dramatic sketch about Billie Holiday.  Studying Bede Abrams gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to be made black in God image.  Studying Thea Bowman taught me something about service.  Then I had a conversation with the younger generation and even learned to rap.

I came back home exhausted but energized, looking forward to teaching my sixth grade Old Testament class.  I have decided to return to the seminary and complete my certificate in Ministry to African American Catholics, I might go back to weekly Bible study and maybe even become a commentator at Mass. I hope to return to the institute again and again.