U prof plays important role as pastor of Baptist Church

By Deborah Rafferty, Staff Writer

A Calvary Baptist pastor of a predominantly black congregation doesn’t let being different from those around him keep him from making an impact in Utah.

Pastor France Davis, an ethnic studies professor at the U, has headed the Calvary Baptist Church in downtown Salt Lake City for the past 35 years. Despite the majority of Utahns belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and his congregation being made up of mostly blacks in a predominantly white state, the church is thriving, thanks to the work Davis does in the community.

“We believe what we believe,” said Davis of members of the LDS Church being the majority in Utah. “We are different. We do not concern ourselves with that. We focus on personal development and try not to focus on negative concepts.”

Calvary Baptist Church is first and foremost a place of worship and refuge, Davis said. Members of the congregation are free to grow in their beliefs and learn to live a righteous life.

Davis also said the church was founded on the beliefs of black people who wanted to escape from the outside world. When African people came to America, they were classified as less than second-class citizens and were not given the opportunity to worship. People recognized how others were hurting in those areas and established a church.

“We needed a refuge,” Davis said. “We were the only people to come to this country not by choice but through slavery and as indentured servants.”

Davis said Calvary Baptist Church plays an important role in the lives of the members of his congregation. He teaches them to increase their self-worth in all they do and has set up a variety of organizations to help the members set and obtain goals to better themselves.

“We all look up to him in a spiritual and non-spiritual way,” said Jimmie McGee, a member of the congregation. “He wants everyone to live up to the fullest potential.”

In his church, Davis stresses the importance of education. Classes are offered to teach members how to read, write and improve their diction and to provide information on diseases such as AIDS.

Five college scholarships and various other scholarships are offered to members of the congregation to further their education. The Pastor France Davis Scholarship, established more than a year ago, is given to help black students overcome financial difficulties in receiving a higher education at institutions such as the U.

In addition to organizing classes for his congregation, Davis is also an adjunct assistant professor at the U. His class on the African-American experience gives students an overview of history through the perspective of blacks, starting with the slavery era and ending with the present day. When the subject of religion is brought up, Davis invites his students to join him at his church to learn firsthand about the music, speech patterns and the community experience.

“Our primary purpose is to teach that you have worth and value,” Davis said. “Nobody is nobody. It helps them live a more vibrant life, reach and achieve higher goals, have high self-esteem and gives a sense of spiritual worth.”

Davis uses a political center to help get members involved in improving the community as well. The Bible is used to help solve problems, Davis said, citing the example of homelessness. He asks the congregation how it can help those less fortunate. The church owns Calvary Towers, housing for seniors and helps people in centers.

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