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An Aid/Aide for the Pastor

This summary involves the area of my research specialty:  Armorbearers. Note: if you are an Armorbearer, please contact me so I can include you in my research.

I can draw a distinction right now. If you are white, you probably have not heard of Armorbearers; if you are black, you have. That is because in the South, Armorbearers are found almost exclusively in African-American churches. In addition, Armorbearers are usually found in pentecostal/charismatic and independent African-American churches, although I heard just this past weekend that some African-American Baptist churches have them, just not in the Atlantic seaboard states (those states along the ocean).

So, what is an Armorbearer? An Armorbearer is a lay (meaning non-clergy) position in the church. If you think of ushers, deacons and elders, then it is just like that. And just like ushers, deacons and elders, the Armorbearer has a specific job. His primary function, I should say only function, is to provide for the needs of the minister/pastor as the head of the church. So, the goal of the Armorbearer is to perform any tasks which might divert the pastorís attention.

Now, this does not mean mowing the pastorís grass. The Armorbearer is responsible for the pastor while the pastor is performing pastor duties only. While there is no specific list of what Armorbearers are supposed to do, I have observed or been told during an interview about the following: picking up the pastor on Sunday morning and driving him to church, staying close to the pastor while at church, ensuring that the pastor is safe by watching for suspicious activities/visitors, ensuring that water and face towels are on the pulpit, maintaining the robe (if the minister uses one), making sure the pastor is not distracted unnecessarily before the sermon, driving the pastor home after the worship service, and driving the pastor to church-related functions during the week as well as staying with the pastor during the function.

This is not done to pour lavish attention on the pastor, but to ensure that the pastor focuses on his duties. For example, think of the pastor on a Sunday morning. After all, a pastor is surrounded by a lot of people on Sundays, and some need to speak with him then and some can wait. The Armorbearer helps divide the "need to" from the "want to." For instance, in one visit to an African-American church, after I asked to speak to the pastor, I was directed to the Armorbearer. My questions could wait (which was true) until after the worship service.

The origins of Armorbearers are murky at best, due to the lack of records kept on Armorbearers. The earliest Armorbearer I located is a guy who lived in New York prior to the Civil War and whose obituary named him as an Armorbearer. My guess is that the security aspect of Armorbearers developed during the late 1800s and early 1900s during the racial tension of the South when black pastors were in danger because of their important role in the African-American church (think about Martin Luther King, who was a pastor). After the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the role of the Armorbearer changed to that of the security and service focus of today.

©2007 Mark Nickens

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