Worshipping the White Way

Lately I have found myself visiting churches as part of my job, we are a faith based organization that gets a fair amount of support from area churches so from time to time I need to go speak at churches. Generally I do my speaking at the beginning of the service but since it would be in poor taste to put the fix in on a congregation and jet out the door, I stay for services. This is where I found myself yesterday, sitting in a service for one of the local Baptist churches.

I have to be honest, I haven’t been to this many new churches since I was hunting for a new church home when I moved to Maine 7 years ago. However all this church visiting reminded me of the differences in how Blacks and Whites worship in this country. Its been said that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America and I believe that to be quite true.

See, 7 years ago when we moved up here I immediately went out in search of a church home, a process that I thought would be rather easy but instead it took 6 years before I finally found a church that I wanted to hang my hat and stay a while.

Now let me start out by saying I was not raised in a traditional Black church, my Dad is a preacher but did not go into ministry until I was almost 18 so where my brother was raised going to church, I was not. Nope, when I was coming up, my mother who was raised by her agnostic father really didn’t care much for church since the only church she ever attended was Catholic church courtesy of her grandmother and that was rather sporadic.  So there was no regular church attendance in my early days though we did occasionally go from time to time, more a function of my Dad’s southern Baptist roots, I suppose.

However my earliest memories of church were that we would attend a few times a year, we would always go to a Black Baptist or Penetecostal style church, I recall the music being amazing but services being long….very long. Long enough that even my father, a man who spent his 20’s and 30’s searching for God would often mutter when is this going to end. It was no coincidence that after my dad went to seminary and eventually got his own church on the southside of Chicago that he ran the service so that it was exactly one hour. He used to joke, that he needed to get home to catch the Sunday football games or whatever sport was playing. I guess those long services grated on his nerves too. Though lets be honest, a 3 hour church service is just too long. I mean when you start hearing the collective rumblings of folks bellies that’s a sign that church is too long and I won’t even get started on the multiple offerings I witnessed in many Black churches. I’m not trying to be bad but I have never met a Black church that didn’t have a building fund. Even my Granny’s church, after they finally built the new church, they were still taking a collection for the building fund.

Now when I found God or rather came to Christ in my early 20’s. I initially attended a non-demominational mixed race church in Chicago where services were not super long but the word was on point. I eventually joined my father’s church where I stayed a member till I moved to Maine.  Having only been a member of two churches prior to my move to Maine and neither of them predominantly white churches, I quickly learned that white folks and black folks worship in very different ways. Look, this is not a slam…at the end of the day the fact that we all love the Lord is what matters but I gotta say worshipping with my white bothers and sisters in Christ has been a very eye opening experience.

First stop on the looking for a church tour involved a Nazarene church, lovely place but they were hardcore against drinking, gambling, basically any type of sin. Um….Jesus drank wine, don’t care what you say but I read that Jesus turned water to wine if he didn’t want folks drinking why was he turning water to wine? So we crossed that church off the list, besides they weren’t all that warm and fuzzy towards me. Guess its one thing to help those poor unfortunate folks of color in far away lands but having one in your midst is something else.

We went to a few other churches, before we almost joined a local Baptist church. Now we attended that church throughout my pregnancy with girl child, even took the membership class but after a year and a half of attending (I was the only chocolate drop in the joint) we decided against it when we realized again folks lacked warmth and were only grudgingly pleasant towards us.

After the Baptist church, we went to a non-denominational start up that had awesome music but after the pastor started telling folks if they were sick, poor and didn’t speak in tongues, they were not real Christians, we had to let them go. I admit it was hard to let that church go, see they had real music, music that touched your soul. However we didn’t see eye to eye with them and I have a problem with  anyone who blames suffering on a lack of faith, sorry but some of the most spirit filled faithful folks have the hardest lives, look at Job?

In my search for a church home, I noticed that every church we went to the music was lacking and there was that annoying tendency to have the congregation get up and sing along with the choir…..Look, I am used to churches that if they have a choir, the choir sings. In fact the whole sing-along with the choir just annoys me aside from the fact that much of the music leaves me going UGH….I know we aren’t there for the music solely but I love to worship with music that touches my soul. Off key sing-alongs just don’t touch me, sorry….

So we went to a few more churches before we finally found the one that became our church home. Now I admit I am not crazy about the music at my church, at times its lacks a certain amount of soul but I live in Maine and finding a church where my presence was not merely tolerated was important. I am not the only person of color at my church, the pastor and associate pastor at times have gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed and most members seem cool with me. So I have an uneasy truth with the fact that I feel most of the services are Christianity lite IMO but the church has a great children’s program and at least for the moment it meets our needs.

I should mention that we do have a Black church in Portland, in fact its one of the oldest Black churches in America, but due to some issues I have had with folks professionally that attend that church, I refuse to go there on just general principal. Maine is a small place so that’s all I can say.

Which brings me to the point of today’s babble, in 7 years of visiting churches I can honestly say there is a real difference in how Blacks and Whites worship, its neither good nor bad just different. The Spousal Unit had attended Black churches with me and always felt welcomed, heck he became a member of my Pop’s church but I cannot say honestly that my experiences in white churches have been as good as his have been with Black churches.

Funny thing is as Christians, we should hold to Paul’s words from the book of Galatians “ There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus. I suspect if we did there might not be so many good god-fearing Christians that use Christianity as a tool to excuse their bigotry. One need only look at the recent presidential election to see folks using religion as a way to excuse the fact they didn’t want a Black guy in charge.

As for me, I will keep worshipping in a way that makes sense to me, and that means treating all folks the right way.

10 thoughts on “Worshipping the White Way”

  1. I attend Greater Mission Outreach Ministry in Buford, Georgia. If you are ever in Buford and you’re looking for a church to visit you should visit us at 525 Bona Road Buford, Georgia 30518. Hopefully you are ok with a woman pastor and women wearing pants as we are not “church in the norm” but “church in the now” 🙂

  2. Hey, come over to my blog and you can read about my dealings with folk in my predominately white church. Yes, there definitely are differences between worship practices of black and white churches. I think what turns me off the most in black churches is the “pastor worship” that often goes on. Instead of reminding people of what Pastor so-and-so said, we need to remind each other of what Jesus said.

    Oh, and BWBTT, I’ve visited The River (when it was in Raleigh. Now it’s in Durham) once, and that was enough for me. I can’t tell you what they preached about, but I do remember that the music was incredibly loud and bouncing off the walls. Many of the members of The River migrated from another Raleigh church whose pastor left for Florida. The leadership openly criticized the Florida pastor delivering sermons over the phone to his flock. My mom didn’t like either church, because they reminded her of a slave/master relationship. But I digress…

    The hard thing about being black in predominately white churches that strive to integrate is that even though you may be on the same page as the leadership, not everyone who attends that church feels the same way. When I first attended my current church, I encountered some behaviors and attitudes from my white brothers and sisters in Christ that left me flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe the things that came out of these peoples’ mouths. Some folks really wanted to pat themselves on the back for even speaking to me. Others seemed surprised that I speak well, have and advance degree, and don’t watch mainstream news. I think some view me as an anomoly.

    Then when it came to serving, I admit that I joined the worship team because they had no people of color on team, and their music lacked soul, imho. I saw black folks in the congregation , but no one representing us on the worship team, so I set out to change that. I also started a dance team. I believed God led me to my current church for those reasons, among others.

    There’s more to tell, but I’ll just leave it at that.

  3. I go to the Vineyard church in Liston. I absolutely love it. And this is coming from a heathen. I’m trying to get better okay. We went in Easter Sunday and they had a testimony that brought me to tears. And yes they have sing alongs but you hear the choir mostly. And everybody be just feelin’ it. It could use a lil more soul but we’re in Maine…I love the song alongs remonds me of being in a concert. When I first walked into Vineyard, I felt like I was walking into my own house. It was wonderful. I loe the pastor. The people are wonderful. I don’t feel like a unicorn, like they want to touch my hair. I would recommend that church to anyone.

  4. Yes, I understand! Corporate worship and fellowship is critical and necessary. At least at your present church you feel loved and there are ministries for your child to take advantage of. To me, that is better than a being at a church where the music is off the hook but you’ve got to deal with a lot of other drama, hostility, or indifference.

    Private devotions are also necessary and you can always supplement your worship experience with DVDs or CDs at home, in your car, or on your ipod/computer at work.

    Gospel artists that are celebratory but have depth, are spiritual and that I would recommend would have to include Richard Smallwood, Kirk Franklin, Jonathon Nelson, John P. Kee. There are so many other artists and styles, but that’s just my take. I love your hometown (Chicago) product too – Darius Brooks.

    But I agree with you, being loved is a requisite to uniting with a particular church and calling it home. That’s what home is – a place of love and security.

  5. I have only visited White churches but never became a member. Some of them along with certain Black donimation churches will pick up the hymn book from the back of the pew, turn to page blah blah blah, and start singing some song they sing every Sunday morning followed by song A and B. Routine is so not from the heart!

    My dad was an asst preacher and later pastored his own church so I grew up in the baptist Black churches. Several offerings with a building fund. My current church doesn’t have a building fund but, since the building is paid off, we have a special annual service for that “celebration”.

    @BWBTT – an assn is great motivation but for some who are still babes-in-Christ (as my minister likes to say) so they have yet to discover their assn or desire that church home comfort more than an assignment is needed….sometimes.

  6. Hey there Shay,

    I talk to many people who are looking for a church and they often ask me what they should look for. My response, “what assignment has God given you for being there?”

    They usually give me a blank look.

    They think that showing up for church is all about spiritual consumerism…. in other words, they are showing up to get something and not to DO something for God.


    I have been in churches where the people weren’t very warm or friendly…but should they be? Yes. No. Depends?

    If they aren’t warm and friendly then MY OWN warmth and friendliness should be the example for all.

    Don’t we feel that as Christians that we should model a strong Christian witness for others who may be at another place in their spiritual growth than we are?

    Or do we just get up and go about our merry way if others don’t meet our expectations? Is THAT mentality in the word of God?

    I realize that there are Christians who are in an infant state in their spiritual journey and there are Christians who are in a mature place in their spiritual journey…sadly…the same is true for those who are ministers. One would “think” that being in seminary for three years would just automatically turn everyone into a seasoned Christian!


    It is not so…

    I do not think that anyone should sit under a heretic…so I want to make that clear…

    But I realize that when God sent me to be a scribe for a television minister whose “Gospel teaching” was very borderline para-Biblical, I knew that I was on assignment. Just because there are people sitting there under that person doesn’t mean that they agree with what is being taught. They just might be on an assignment.

    I have noticed some worship style differences in black churches and white churches but just hop over to The River Church website where a white couple is pastoring in Durham. You just might be in for a shocker! *smiles*

  7. my dad always used to embarrass me by calling out AMEN during sermons (when he wasn’t preaching). he’s much more @ home @ their Black church. I feel SO white there, but welcomed. 🙂

  8. after being raised catholic, im not big on organized religion. i have my beliefs & work towards being a good person. & i accept that other people believe & live differently than i do–i like diversity. i think if everyone who calls themselves “christians” truly was, the world would be a much nicer place.
    im sorry you had bad experiences in those churches. ive never felt welcome in any white church either (ive never been to a black church) not even the one i grew up in. sadly, they tend to be cold places.

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