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Students build sacred spaces as spirituality thrives

Meilynn Smith
The Black Church and Bible Study work to rebuild a post-pandemic religious tradition on campus.

Since 1967, the Black Church has served as a sanctuary for Grinnell College students to celebrate their faith and join in traditions of gospel music. Open to all, regardless of background, the church is a family that strives to meet everyone’s needs, according to Michael Sims, adviser to Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir (YGB) and dean of student involvement.

The Black Church holds service in Herrick Chapel on the second and fourth Sunday of every month at 10:30 a.m., with performances by the YGB choir, and sermons from students and guest preachers from a variety of congregations.  

There are currently 19 members of the choir, more than double the number of students involved after first returning to campus post pandemic. Michael Sims, adviser to YGB and dean of student involvement, said that the church is still rebuilding after a decline in attendance following the pandemic.  

Sims and members of YGB agreed that increasing outreach in the Grinnell community is crucial as they continue to expand and move forward. Sims said one of his goals is to bring back fall and spring concerts next year, and potentially even consider planning a spring tour. Sims collaborates with Barry Jones, director of YGB, to oversee technical aspects of events and tours, but he said that the planning of services lies mainly in the hands of students.  

In the past, YGB has partnered with groups like Grinnell Singers, the Catholic Students Association and Chaverim. They have also toured with Singers, which Sims said he aims to bring back.  

“It’s more than just singing here. We get to explore, learn new things, as well as still having that spiritual connection. I hope everyone gets to experience something like that in their lifetime,” said Hill.  

 Fellowship is amongst one of the most important values for Anu Sanumi `26, an active member of YGB and the Black Church. “We’re trying to make people know that there is a place in God that is accepting, that is transforming, that gives you a family, that you have always been looking for,” she said.   

“I’m not Christian, but I say I am spiritual. I never really felt at home at any other churches I’ve been to, but being part of Black Church and YGB gave me a spiritual, religious community that I never got to connect with before,” said Yanni Davis `27, a member of YGB.  

This past Sunday, April 14, guest preacher Minister Quanda Brown led a Christian worship service with music performed by the YGB.  

Sanumi said that the services include an altar call, which allows student voices to be featured during the sermon, as well as the guest minister.  “God doesn’t discriminate. When I step into the church, it’s like uncovering different walks of life with the fact that we can come together and find hope in God’s word,” she said.  

Sanumi’s main outlets for practicing her faith are YGB and Gateway Bible Study. Held every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Humanities and Social Studies (HSSC) building in classroom S2327 by Gateway Grinnell, students gather in a nondenominational bible study, sharing favorite passages and discussing how to apply God’s teachings to their experiences on campus.  

Members discuss passages during Gateway nondenomonational Bible Study, finding friends amidst faith. (Meilynn Smith)

“It was my hope. It was something that delivered when nothing else could, and that’s why I can stand firm to share that message today,” said Sanumi.   

The weekend before spring break, members of YGB performed at Jones’ church, the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines. “Now that we have a larger group, we gave them a one-day experience to show them what tour is like. We showed them what it’s like to take their music and ministry outside of the classroom and into a community to see the true impact of what building community can do,” said Sims. 

“That audience was huge. You could feel the energy and hype, and then we get back here to our chapel. We want to feel that same energy and community,” said Davis. “We plan on getting the choir back up and running, don’t worry. We’re going to go back on tour, because traveling is so important for people to see that this is fun, that this is who we are,” added Hill. 

YGB meets every Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. Everyone is encouraged to sign up for the class and earn one academic credit per semester.  


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About the Contributors
Zoe Zappas
Zoe Zappas, Staff Writer
Zoe is a first year intended gender, women’s and sexuality studies and Spanish double major. Originally a Clevelander, she fell down the Ohio to California pipeline and is now labeled a fake midwesterner. She is a lover of sesame bagels, stalking your spotify, playing the dance like an appliance game, and raising her eyebrow at everything.
Meilynn Smith
Meilynn Smith, Staff Photographer
Meilynn is a first-year from Vancouver, Washington. She is an intended biology major and wants to go into physical therapy in the future. She enjoys playing soccer, hanging out with friends, going on hikes, and photographing wildlife. 
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