I’m a ‘PK’ also known as a ‘preacher’s kid.’ My life could probably be measured by the moments I created inside Oak Street A.M.E. Church and Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church, the two houses of worship where my mother served as pastor.
At three-years-old, I remember throwing up on my dad inside Oak Street’s multi-purpose room after eating too many Reese’s Pieces candies. At five-years-old, I was welcomed into Payne Memorial by a kiss on the cheek by one of their longtime members. I’ll never forget that moment where I automatically made a connection with my new church family. At 9, Jesse Jackson visited the church and held my small brown hand while my mother took him on a tour. And, at 13-years-old, my mother announced to our church that she had made history becoming the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
It was a bittersweet moment. While I was beyond proud of my mother’s seemingly unreachable accomplishment, I was also sad that I’d be losing a family I had loved dearly. (In the A.M.E. tradition, bishops can no longer pastor.)
For the first time in my life, I was able to choose where I worshipped…and the thought scared me. After growing up inside such sacred walls, I never considered what I liked about a worship experience and what I didn’t like. I never asked myself whether I preferred a small congregation or a large mega-church. And I never pondered whether it mattered if my church had a dance ministry or a youth ministry…because before this moment, I had to attend church whether I liked it or not.
After months of seeking a church that felt like home, I joined Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church, then a new ministry worshipping out of Coppin State University in Baltimore. With Jamal Harrison Bryant at the helm, a young pastor who attracted an even younger congregation, I finally felt that I was able to deepen my relationship with God past my childhood notions. After months of attending, I walked down the aisle to join the church. I had finally found my new church home.
Of course that was until I was accepted into the University of Maryland in College Park, nearly sixty miles from my new church home. After carefully selecting a church that matched my interests, suddenly life had thrown me back into the church-dating game. Are you there God? It’s me Joi-Marie…and I’m sick of looking for a church. So, I did what any twenty-first century young woman would do; I turned to the Internet.
The Internet, regardless of religion, is the latest frontier in expanding ministries that reach people where they are. Just like every other industry, including commerce, information and even dating, the Internet provides not only live worship experiences at the click of a button it also provides a virtual context to help one deepen their spiritual relationship. Web sites now offer the gamut in online devotionals, bible studies, prayers and even prayer request forums.
And that’s not all. Pastors like Rev. Tim Ross, a Methodist minister, even opted to tweet Holy Communion to his parishioners who just couldn’t make it. Also, the First Church of Twitter was created on Facebook with the catchy tagline, “Where the tweeple of God gather together, 140 characters at a time.” Although it’s probably a joke gone too far, the idea that churches are expanding on the Internet and using social media to spread their message seems necessary to keep up with life’s changing pace.
After moving sixty miles south to College Park, Maryland, I decided I didn’t want to find a new church home. Instead, I logged onto Streaming Faith, a leading Web site that provides online broadcasts from ministries around the world. My church, thankfully, broadcasts live from this online portal, allowing me never to miss my weekly worship experience.
Although my computer screen can’t replace the four walls of the church, being able to plug in online and experience the service instantaneously is a modern convenience. It’s like being in my own personal overflow room. From inside my dorm, and now my apartment in New York, I’m still able to connect to my church family. While I often visit local churches for worship, communion and other social activities, it’s also satisfying that the church home that I grew to love is still just a few clicks away.