Religion: Strains On the Heart

U.S. black churches battle apathy and threats to their relevance but also revel in renewal

"Tell the story! Tell the story!" worshipers cry out as the Rev. Cecil L. Murray preaches beneath the spectacular murals and stained glass of Los Angeles' First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The exclamations from the standing-room-only congregation of 2,000 come with each oratorical high note. It is a hymn of health, bespeaking the prosperity of the city's oldest (1872) black congregation, where every service is a vibrant demonstration of fervor and passion.

At the cavernous Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, the air throbs to the beat of drums and tambourines punctuating a Sunday-morning service. Parishioners sing out...

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