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.