I have a royal wedding hangover because I jumped right in with nothing but well wishes for Prince Harry and his bride Meghan Markle, now titled, her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Sussex. We were taken into their fairytale, then the Duke and Duchess, lead by Bishop Michael Curry, took Queen Elizabeth and hundreds of millions of people across the world, many for the first time, somewhere I’ve been going and growing my whole life: Black Church. Hold onto your fascinators – here are 5 Things I’ve Learned in Black Church:
1. PASSION: Black church is passionate; it’s high emotion & drama and LOUD. The preacher is the main actor in the great oratory tradition of Black Southern Baptist church. It doesn’t matter if the preacher starts off poised, thoughtful or serious, with a scripture, a story, a joke or a quote because by the time he finishes, the call and response (Amen! Preach the word! Yes, Lord! Hallelujah!) will be in full effect- and you will be whipped up into a frenzy! The whole point is to hear the WORD in a way that gets you out of your head and into the Spirit where revelation emerges and self-determination grows.
2. GOSPEL MUSIC: No matter what emotional state you’re in when you arrive at church, when the choir sings you are moved to a higher place. Gospel music soothes the soul. The music is almost a balm- a way of healing. So much about black church is the sway, the hand clapping, the standing and yes, the dancing. It’s the words, the rhythm, the unison, the harmony that fill you with such gratitude and joy. It’s a celebration of God and of life itself. I so loved the gospel choir’s rendition of Stand by Me by the Kingdom Choir and the nod to the Beatles and John Lennon.
3. RELEVANCE: Black church is real and relevant. You can start with an old hymn or the book of Genesis, but the sermon will eventually turn to everyday life issues – no subject is off-limits. You always get a reminder of where we’ve been and where we are going – the history of black people; a call for justice, not just in the U.S. but also throughout the globe. You hear about endurance, perseverance, redemption, overcoming and victory. But black church is also always about moving forward; restoration, keeping the faith in the face of opposition, shaking off the shackles; working out your soul’s salvation as an individual but also a member of a larger society. It appeals to the best, most courageous parts of us. It makes you feel so hopeful, so strong; you are part of a grand tradition- it isn’t only about you. You see yourself as part of a larger community of not just hearers but doers.
4. UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: It doesn’t matter whether it is a wedding or a funeral- the preacher is going to see it as an opportunity to tell you again what matters – the unconditional love of God, and remind you of what Jesus required of each of us- to love, to be love, to give love, to be kind, and to understand that you are not better than anyone else. We are all the same; all trying to get it together; love your neighbor even those who misuse you. Forgive. You can’t have forgiveness if you are not willing to forgive. Love covers the missteps and strengthens your faith as you recall that you are resting on God’s Everlasting Arms and God’s got the whole world in his hands. As such even though we call it black church, the whole world is encompassed by this love. There’s a lot of talking to your neighbor and embracing of strangers, because you never know if you are entertaining angels. As Bishop Curry said, “…There is enough love for all God’s children.”
5. RESPONSIBILITY: With unconditional love comes power and responsibility – the requirement to share the love, the grace, the mercy and resources- to make life better for someone else in your family, community, the world. “This little light of mine I’m going to let it shine…” urges us to make good on our obligation to use and not hide the gifts we have been given.
I will always be grateful for the blessing of being raised in the black church, one of the most resilient and influential institutions in our society – one that inspires, renews, and challenges plenty to live a life of compassion, courage and conviction. I worship at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Our Bishop Walter Thomas is royalty to me. Hope to see you there or online at newpsalmist.org.
(Photo caption: Vernā Myers & her Bishop Walter Thomas)