Tipping Away From the Amen Corner

by Stacia L. Brown

You’ve likely heard the saying, “Sunday mornings are the most segregated day in America.” It refers to the stark divide of church membership among racial lines. I grew up in the Black Church, though none of the churches I attended as a child expressly identified as part of that culture. In fact, our leaders always seemed pretty elated when a white visitor stopped by. We’d court multicultural membership and many a sermon was preached about preparing for an influx of souls that “didn’t look like us.”

But mostly, the color of our congregation remained monochrome. And, when I grew up, I left it. As many twenty-somethings do, I took some time off from the three-to-four-day-a-week church service regimen with which I’d been raised and just sat alone with my beliefs for a while, recalling, reassessing, rejecting, and eventually, reaffirming them. I visited here and there, landing in a truly multicultural church for a time, with a white pastor and congregants from many nations.

I stopped attending there when I noticed the pastor’s penchant for joking at other cultures’ expense during his sermons.

There’s a reason Sundays are segregated. Several, actually. The cultural composition of the American church runs parallel with the history of race relations in this country. Though the church wants to be a pioneering model for racial reconciliation, that proves an uphill battle in a country where masters wouldn’t allow their slaves to read the bible they wanted them to obey.

That irony lingers in my mind at the church I’ve been attending for the past month. Not only is it Episcopal–a big enough departure for someone who was raised Charismatic/Pentecostal, it’s also almost all white. A small fellowship with about 60 members, it provides a quiet, loving, ritual-based worship that meshes well with what I want in a church experience.

But that doesn’t make me feel any less like a fish out of water. One of the greatest things about the Black Church is the freedom you feel to voice your frustrations–even and at times, especially, those related to racial injustice–and hear them echoed in the spirituals and sermons. It’s a place where you’re afforded a kind of cultural shorthand; the brothers and sisters know what you’re going through. There’s no burden to explain your idiom, your music, and your struggles. And, at least for a few hours a week, you can take a break from the laborious task of code-switching. In short, you don’t have to use your “work voice.”

Here, I do. But for me, right now, it’s a necessary tradeoff.

Last Sunday, one of the priests made an announcement about remembering to pray for racial healing in Sanford, FL, site of the murder of Trayvon Martin. It was the first I’d heard about the case since my arrival. It was heartening to know that the issues that consume my daily life as a black woman may not go entirely unacknowledged at a predominantly white church. It sparks a hope I’d allowed to grow dim that race relations can and will improve, if we don’t avoid voluntarily entering spaces where we’re in a small minority and building relationships there that foster cultural diversity in worship.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I will NOT attend an all white church! White people’s church don’t have the same Jesus mine has……iunno! Sowwwwweee. I’m bored to DEATH!! My attention span needs FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIYA, it needs DRAAAAAAAMMMMMMMAAAAA!! I need to observe, I need to look at some cute honey!

  • MarloweOverShakespeare

    @Stacia L. Brown

    Here’s one black woman’s take on being in non-black churches. Take a look if you like.

  • http://stacialbrown.com Stacia L. Brown

    thanks for the link, @marloweovershakespeare. great site, great read.

  • http://ananseproductions.tumblr.com trin-trin

    i’m with you…my mother goes to a white church because its close to the house and the service is only an hour…but im sleep by the time the pastor starts preaching…i just decided if i’m gonna sleep, it might as well be in my own bed.

  • Wuluwulu

    Churches are not just segregated along racial lines they are also segregated along class lines. when I used to attend church most of the ppl had their cliques. The rich stuck together, the working class, the have-nots..etc. These folks could sit right next to each other and shout out their praises and Amens, but when the service ended they all gravitated toward their like kinds. I always found this odd, because I thought churches would be the last place to be segregated. I am sure there is a wholesome church out there were friendships and socializing happens regardless of class, but in all my years of church going, I never saw this.

  • ayomidejpw

    All of the churches I have attended as an adult were not segregated but racially mixed. It was something I looked for and successfully found. I have lived in NYC, northern Cali, MIlwaukee and now Northern Va. The church I attend now has a white pastor with a good mix of African Americans, Africans, Caucasians, Asians and Hispanics. I love how the people aren’t afraid to speak to you and give you a hug to welcome you to the church.

  • LemonnLime

    “i just decided if i’m gonna sleep, it might as well be in my own bed” I laughed SO hard at that.

    I’m with y’all I grew up baptist with 3 hour services but went to white catholic school with hour long masses. Sure you get out in an hour but it is THE most boring stale hour. To them it was an exciting mass if they use a guitar… seriuosly after 6 years of that never again. Now I live in vermont where there are only white churches and when my family asks why I don’t go I just let be known I’m not going to anymore stale white churches!

  • Leonie UK

    I go to an all Black church, I wish I was somewhere else, but trust GOD put me there not me. I’ve floated to other churches which are more diverse and found the same issue I have at my church. Sabbath,Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic,Methodist, Apostolic all have their issues, no place is perfect and that’s just fine with me.

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    I attend a predominately white church out of convenience, but it is and will never be my first option. It is about an hour and half long, but feels like it is 3 hours long.

    I used to live in NoVA and the first church I found was a predominately white church. One Sunday, I was ushered to my seat and I was behind some other white people that had been ushered to that row. One white lady standing by, I think another usher, seemed fine and smiling as all the other people were being ushered in, but once she saw me she rushed to the row and grabbed her purse. I looked at her and she smiled nervously. That was my last day at that church. I found a black church about a month later and loooooooved it. Oh Lord, I loved that church. I still watch sermons online despite moving thousands of miles and time zones away. At the end of the day, I think it was God’s plan for me to leave that church ASAP.

  • Alexis

    Listen to all of you. ‘Black church’ this and ‘white church’ that. I’m sorry but, is this how backwards Christianity is that you have churches that are identified by the races going to the church? Compare it to Islam and you’ll see that in their mosques, you come across all races be it black, white, Asian or whatever. Take note Christians.

  • Natalie B.

    I’ve been so turned off by the “black church” that I have no choice but to go to predominately white churches. Between the uniformed, borderline bigotted comentary on social issues, the twisting of the Gospel to fit their agenda and the unnecessary “whopping” and hollerin’ that accompanies that mess and extends the service well into the afternoon, I just gave up. Maybe I could tolerate the aforementioned if there was some service in Jesus name attached to it, but it just feels self-congratulatory that at least they aren’t one of “them”, who ever “them” is, despite the fact there are a whole lot of illegitamate children and baby mamas/baby daddies in the pews…

  • Abigail

    I used to go to a church near my place. I stopped because I was not feeling the preaching. I was going on Friday evening, appointed day for younger generation. The crowd was mixed: blacks, whites, and latinos. One evening they showed us an old video of aborigines in South America and they were depicting this people as savage, bellicose and bloody. They claimed these aboriginal south Americans killed a young preacher who come to save their soul by converting them to Christianity. Then they showed the white preacher’s wife and children in picture. It reminds me of the African slaves and white people always trying to portray themselves as saviours and pure. The preacher was really diminishing other cultures/religions and I did not like that.
    Then another evening, I went and the same preacher told us an anecdote and again he was depicting stereotypical black people in a fast food where he said he felt totally unsafe. What a joke!I It’s a former colleague and friend who brought me to this church at a time when I was feeling really down. I thanked her but I stopped going to that church. I felt it could not reach me if I did not agree with their thinking. I cannot understand how black people can praise things like that.
    I do not want to sound like an heretic or an Illuminati looool but I find it really hard to pertain to a church when you are black. Especially where I live. I am from a liberal catholic and jewish background but I did not find my sacred house yet. I try to find it inside of me but I would love to find a community and a shrine but it is so hard. I used to say I am black before everything. I am black before being jewish or christians but it does not make sense. I hope one day I will find what fits me. Now I have to beware of all these sects.
    Your respectful comments will be appreciated.

  • Dalili

    I searched for a long time for a church that feed me spiritually so I can relate to those still seeking their sanctuaries. I was lucky to find a church that’s a healthy marriage between Evangelical and Charismatic teachings, that’s all inclusive regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation and where service begins at 11am and ends promptly at 1pm.

  • Arielle

    Stacia, thank you for writing. Your writing is such a mic check for many of us black womyn.

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