Two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have long standing affiliations with the Episcopal Church: St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina and Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina. A third affiliated HBCU, St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, was closed in 2013. The draft budget of the Episcopal Church continues to support St. Augustine’s and Voorhees in the amount of $1,395,000 in the form of block grants for this next triennium.
Since the 1960s, the rationale for the Episcopal Church to fund HBCUs has changed. There was once an effort to help educate African-Americans in an environment of segregation. After desegregation things changed. Now African-Americans have the same broad educational opportunities as others, thus decreasing the enrollment at HBCUs. Today, the conversation is shifting to the spiritual and emotional roles that HBCUs affiliated with the Episcopal Church are able to provide for their students, even though only a small percentage of students are Episcopalians.
Starting in 1976, the General Convention has set aside a continuing financial commitment to St. Augustine’s and Voorhees. With the high probability that both schools will receive additional funds from the Episcopal Church (because of the closing St. Paul’s), this is an opportunity to create new structures to serve the students and the Church. First, these funds could be used to recruit more Episcopal students to attend St. Augustine’s and Voorhees. Second, this is an opportunity to fund programs that would encourage HBCU students to consider lay and ordained leadership within the Episcopal Church.
The results could be two-fold and beneficial to both the Church and the HBCU students. Students would receive greater spiritual and academic mentorship and training. At a time when our nation is still grappling with the traditions of racism, this is an opportunity for the Church to make an effective change in our society. Plus, the Episcopal Church would benefit greatly from the voices of these new academic and theological leaders.
If indeed the Episcopal Church wants to provide and nurture the pathway for more African-Americans to become lay and ordained leaders, now is the time to adopt more vigorous programs. What if the Church partnered with the HBCUs to give more funding to the Episcopal communities on their campuses? What if our seminaries were given funds to create theological training programs for undergraduate students? These are the types of programs that will create new opportunities for the 21st century.