Sunday, April 15, 2012

"This church sure is...quiet"

Apparently, that's what my newly married mother was told by a childhood friend after she came to visit my father's church years before I was born. My mother, she was raised Methodist...which is part of the reason we as children were allowed to use playing cards (my brother and I taught ourselves poker and blackjack...thank you World Book) and why she was the one who introduced me to alcohol and my brother to cigarettes when we first became curious as children--little bro chickened out on trying the borrowed, lit cigarette just as she put it to his mouth, and I writhed in 8 year old pain at the shot of vodka she'd poured when I asked what was in the bottle my father's job had given him for Christmas. (There may be no link, but to this day neither of us are big users of either alcohol or tobacco.) But yes...she was Methodist...African Methodist Episcopal to be exact--a denomination that is more permissive, and quieter in worship than your traditional Baptist church. Which must mean the Baptist church I came up in was pretty non-traditional when I was a child, because I remember relative calm and none of the fast-paced praise music and dance that most people think of when they think "Black Church". As Bart Simpson once said "Black God rules!"

So today I was leaving church and was walking out with one of the other Black people that shows up to church...the service I attend, and the church as a whole is predominately White with a few Blacks, Latinos and Asians floating around. One thing is particular to Black people though...while other races are likely foreign and new to Christianity, it's pretty safe to assume that if you run into a Black person in a White church, they're making a religious adjustment just as you are. So we talked and he explained why and how he started attending the church and how he wished his wife would come, but that she was apprehensive about the racial differences. I began talking about my own adjustment...from the music to the minority status, and he  continued on, letting me that while his wife was Baptist and used to a high energy service, he was Methodist and found more familiarity and comfort with a subdued worship experience. I immediately thought of the first time I attended church with my apostolic boyfriend's (at the time) family. I was completely overwhelmed. It was loud...louder than I'd ever experienced. People were running and screaming, drums was LONG. I've gotten used to hour long services...3 and 4 hour services feel like endurance races now.

But yes...while I do think there are lines easily drawn dividing Black and White Christian experiences in the US, today was a reminder that sometimes, race gets trumped by other things. 


  1. Megan - My wife is Hispanic and her father is a pastor of a pentecostal church (I'm white) so it was quite a cross-cultural experience for me when we first started dating and I attended all those 3-hours services with the LOUD salsa worship music and clapping and "GLORIA DIOS!" etc etc. I had a good run with pentecostal churches in college so was used to that part of it -just not the long hours and the language difference, of course. Anyways, she wanted to get far away from it for a awhile, as traditional as you can imagine. Now she misses some of the community that the church provided. But it's long ago and far away. She has had some trouble assimilating into the mostly white suburban community we are in now. It's always an adjustment, I imagine.

    And I cracked up about the cigarettes and drinking. I was brought up pretty baptist, and didn't "learn" to drink until college when I started attending a good Congregational church, then later, Methodist. Those people knew how to party!

    Enjoyed your thoughts here.

  2. LOL@ Methodists knowing how to party. Their "off-limits" list really is a bit...shorter than Baptists'.

    I remember my first time experiencing a Latin service. I've done services in other languages before and I speak enough Spanish for it to not sound completely foreign, but what got me was the dancing. I've always thought of Merengue and Salsa to be "party music", even though I know them to be simply types of beats and instrumentation, just like the folk and blues you hear in American churches. I just couldn't get over people shaking their hips to worship music.

    That community issue is difficult. If you come from a "closer" culture, adjusting to a more distant, stoic one is always rough. It's easy to see them as cold/removed/uncaring, but I've found that it's really more that emotional expression and open relationships play a different role for that particular culture. I think you're right though. After a certain point in life, it's exceedingly difficult to assimilate, especially if there isn't a strong desire or reason to, and even more so if there are physical markers identifying you as part of an out-group.

    That's something I've been thinking about a lot how much "Christian" does it take to see past the external packaging of the physical body.

    Thanks for reading!