On Sunday, I worshipped with my sorority sisters in a local Baptist church in Baltimore. Sitting in the pew and listening to the old spirituals brought memories flooding back of growing up in the church.
You see, in my family going to church wasn’t an option: it was a requirement. I would dread Sundays as a child: I always had to wear dresses and those itchy stockings and be pinched on the cheek by the church “mothers” (the older women of the church for those who aren’t familiar with black churches).
When my family moved to rural Virginia, it was even worse. My church was a small one room building where I couldn’t hide from my grandmother’s watchful eye. I would try to be cool and talk during service, but she would give me the “look” and threaten to sit me next to my great-grandmother in the front pew.
Church to me then was very boring-I hardly paid attention to the sermon. However, I did look forward to singing in the choir and Sunday school. I was able to interact with others of my own age and talk as long as it was appropriate. There were also the church youth field trips to the mall in Greensboro, North Carolina and to the amusement park.
In my first few years of college, I strayed away from the church. The only service I would go to was the mandatory chapel service on Thursdays. I couldn’t miss too many of those because we needed 80 hours of chapel to graduate. However, I loved my college’s choir. The music would always penetrate my soul and I would leave service feeling renewed and ready to face the world.
Since college, the church has become increasingly important to me. Throughout my PhD process, the collective worship with other Christians kept me from dropping out of school many times. In fact, going to church at some points would be the only time I would receive a hug or any other kind of human touch throughout the week (it doesn’t help to live away from family..lol). If I go too long without going to church, it definitely does not sit right in my spirit.
For me, there is comfort associated with the rituals associated with the Black Church. And I can not forget the music. Anything ranging from the toe stomping, hand clapping song to the slow and stirring spirituals of slavery times. It makes me think of my ancestors and how they had to fight just to be able to worship God collectively.
Like Maya Angelou stated, ” I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” I have the ability to worship God collectively with other believers without fear of persecution. For me, that is a strong reason why I now love the church. When I was younger, I didn’t fully comprehend how much my ancestors had to deal with to be able to worship. However, now when I hear a spiritual, it reminds me of their perseverance in spite of all obstacles.