“Let’s go to the black church today,” H said yesterday morning.
If you put on your best Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown hat, you will deduce two things from that statement. First, the church we attend on a regular basis is not a “black” church, and second, there aren’t many black churches in our town.
In fact, the church H was talking about is one hour away in Omaha.
One day (or year), I’m going to tell you about the church we attend on a regular basis. But, for the sake of this story, I’ll just give you a little background. The church we attend is also the church where H is the pastor. A diverse group of people attend our church. We cover just about every demographic you can think of. Go ahead. Think of a few demographics. Yep. Exactly.
We may not go to a black church, but we know we’re where God wants us. And, we often miss (and by miss, I mean we painfully, achingly, miserably yearn for) the black church experience.
The black church has a long, rich, beautiful, painful history. The very first theology I ever heard about was Black Liberation Theology. For the longest time, I thought it was the only theology out there. The black church is serious about speaking truth to power. Its members are active in politics, committed to education, and very involved in the black community. The black church stands tall in the belief that it takes a village to raise a child, and that our children are our future. Members of the black church hold in high esteem the heritage and lineage of our ancestors and the price so many of them paid for the freedoms and privileges we experience today. For many people who attend a black church, it is the one time in an entire week where we can gather with people with whom we share a common history.
For many of us, we spend our weeks in cubicles or factories or classrooms or board meetings or PTA meetings with people who don’t look like us and who don’t know our stories. So, going to church on Sunday is the place to reconnect with our heritage. It’s the one time each week where our children experience a community where the expectations are high and the encouragement to succeed is served up on an endless buffet from the Mothers and sisters and Deacons of the church (who will also call that same child out the minute that child messes up, and — by the same token — be one of the first to show up at the Principal’s office to bail that child out when needed). Going to the black church is part of what makes it possible for many of us to make it through the other six days of the week, where no one in our world looks like us.
I don’t want it to sound as if I prefer the black church to any or all other church experiences. That’s not it at all. I think the best way to describe it (for now, anyway) is that black church is my first church language. I am fluent in other types of church traditions and experiences, and the fact that I’ve met God in all types of services tells me he doesn’t really have a preference, either.
So yesterday, we drove an hour to go to church and (except for one minute of panic that I had just before walking into a church where I’d never been before) it felt just like home. The songs, the flow, the rhythm, the way we all rocked back and forth or side to side during the music and the prayers and the preaching. All of it. In middle school, I had a pair of light blue corduroy pants. They had side slash pockets that zipped closed and had a toggle bead that hung from the zipper. When I tried those pants on in the store, I wondered if some tailor somewhere had secretly taken my measurements and created those pants just for me. Sitting in that church service yesterday almost made me reach for the toggle bead on the zipper on my pocket.
You should go one day. If you’ve never been, you should go. You should take a deep breath, gather up your courage, ask somebody where the best black church is in your neighborhood, find out what time the service starts and how long it lasts, and you should go. You need to hear the Hammond organ and the choir and the playful way the preacher links words together to drive home the point and make you stand to your feet just to tell God, “Thank you!” for bringing you through. You need to experience the unbridled emotion, the expectancy of worship, the energetic response to the Word of God. Just the same way I needed to experience the pipe organs and the praise bands and the Catholic Masses in both English and Spanish and the Lutheran Lenten services and the Taize worship services and the labyrinths and the speaking in tongues and all the rest.
It won’t be perfect. What church is? But it will be worth it. Here’s one of the gifts of the black church experience, and it comes from more than one hundred years of practice: No matter how rough your life is; no matter how badly your week has beaten you down; no matter how helpless you feel, or how betrayed you’ve been; no matter how far you feel from God — if you can just drag yourself across the threshold of the church, just get yourself inside the door, you will get what you need to make it through another week. (And I know church isn’t all about “What can you do for me?” but the truth is that sometimes we all need a little bit of help to make it.)
Linking with Michelle.