This past Sunday my pastor-husband and all my children were out of town so instead of going to our church I took the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do….Worship at a black church!
A friend went with me and as we pulled in to this church’s parking lot I got butterflies, not knowing quite what to expect or how we would be received. Well, let me just tell you that fear was dispelled the moment we walked in the door!
I have never met a more welcoming, genuine and exuberant bunch. Their joy was truly contagious. The very first woman we met was our new BFF and promptly led us by the hands to meet more ladies in the foyer. Once she headed to her perch in the choir loft we made our way in to the sanctuary. Barely sitting down, another lady jumped up to introduce herself and the warm welcomes just kept coming. By the time worship began we were smitten.
Throughout the service my mind was processing some observations that those of us comfortable in our own churches and traditions should let sink in. My thoughts to share:
1. As I mentioned we were warmly embraced from the beginning. It was apparent that this was a close-knit body of believers, yet they did not make us feel like outsiders (though we were the only two white people) nor did they stand in clusters just talking to their own close friends. I know how easy it is to want to just talk to my friends and people I know when I am at my own church or familiar turf, but they went out of their way to make conversation. And when they greeted each other, they literally danced up to and embraced one another with the biggest brightest smiles and hugs you’ve ever seen. Such an enthusiastic greeting goes a long way in making one feel truly cherished!
2. From my Baptist upbringing an “altar call” is when people come forward to accept Christ, rededicate their life or transfer membership. So seeing “Altar Call” listed in the bulletin early on I wondered why that was happening before the Word had even been preached. But before I knew what was happening our BFF had descended from the choir, grabbed us from our pews and pulled us to the front of the church alongside everyone else. As a large loosely formed circle developed, I realized the “altar call” was a time of congregational prayer in which we all held hands. It was an intimate connectional time of prayer and song. Nothing was rushed or scripted or hurried. Just heart-felt prayer and petition.
3. Speaking of singing since that is after all what is most widely associate with the black church, I will say it was amazing! It was soulful and loud rejoicing. No one seemed concerned with what others thought about their voice (though all fabulous) or their dancing or their audible interjections throughout the entire service. They were just praising the Lord as a body, not relying on a band or praise team to lead and perform. As should be, everyone was involved in corporate worship. And as my pastor-husband says, “Sing loudly so your neighbor can hear you because part of singing in worship is to sing to one another to build one another up.” And that is exactly what happened in that church; no wonder they all exude so much joy!
4. Did you catch that I said no one was in a hurry to rush through the “altar call” prayer? Well, that was the mindset throughout the two hour service. A service that included all ages; babies, young children, teenagers and adults. No one seemed to be in hurry to get through church. No one was looking at their watches or squirming in the seats. No one tried to make apologies for a long-winded sermon. And afterwards people stayed to visit with their church family, young and old. This worship service was what their day was made for, not just something they were fitting in to their day!
5. Finally, I don’t think one person had on jeans. Not that jeans is wrong, but there is something that getting dressed up for church communicates… Sunday is a special, set-apart day! I think we’ve lost that. We don’t view it as different. We don’t think about Who we are coming to worship and we’ve lost that sense of reverence and awe. But not here. They came in their best; nice dresses with hose, hats, fancy hair bun or braid, men in spiffy suits and shiny shoes. I know and believe we can come as we are, but I personally love what dressing up signifies.
So for what is worth as we consider our own traditions, views and approach to worship and the body of Christ. Do we exalt our King? Do we seek to build up others? Do we truly worship or do we go to socialize with our friends or just to feel good that we went? Is He our life?
When He is our life, I pray that the joy spilling out of those dear brothers and sisters in Christ would also fill us, over-flowing and impacting others in our paths!
Can I get an Amen?!
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