The First Time I Went to Black Church
Our small college town had a great pastor. If ever there was a man who loved God with all his heart, it was the preacher we called Brother Jim. He preached a little fire and brimstone, mixed it with a generous helping of love, and faithfully fed his flock. One Sunday, Brother Jim announced that another congregation of believers would be joining us in a few weeks. He and a friend wanted to combine their churches for a Revival. That meant the singing was going to be out of this world. And we would likely have a bountiful pot luck dinner on Wednesday night. It also meant that the preaching would be extra, extra, extra good. I loved a good Revival, and could hardly wait! Especially when Brother Jim announced that his friend was the pastor over at the Black Church.
Fifty members from their church came over to ours, dressed in suits and pretty hats, and let me tell you. Those two fiery preachers let ‘er rip. The Holy Spirit moved, and people got saved. For a few glorious hours, we worshipped as one body, white and black, side by side. It was absolutely wonderful.
But, now that they had come to our church, I wondered what it would be like to go to theirs.
Black Church on Vacation
The first time I went to Black Church was when we were on vacation. We were in Dallas and wanted to take our young kids to hear Dr. Tony Evans preach. The pre-sermon worship experience included special music by three ladies wearing matching sparkly vests singing new words to a familiar tune. Like Gladys Knight’s Pips, these talented ladies matched their synchronized movements to the beat, while joyfully harmonizing their voices with these words: I’m Leavin’ on That Midnight Train to Glory. That was a little piece of heaven right there.
The second time I visited Black Church was also on vacation. We were in New York and wanted to take our then older kids to a church where Martin Luther King had preached. Visitors were welcomed warmly, then escorted to the balcony where we could enjoy the worship experience but not distract the regular members. The pastor wore a long red velvet robe, the choir sang loudly, joyfully, clapping and moving in a very comfortable way. Like they all knew what they were doing and it was easy for them to do it. Afterward, we walked over to a nearby soul food restaurant where we tasted fried chicken on a waffle for the first time.
Black Church in My City
The third time I went to Black Church was a repeat visit to the first one. We had just moved to Dallas from Austin. Mike and I were looking forward to regular opportunities to hear well-known Texas preachers on the reg. No longer would we have to wait to hear them on vacation Sundays. But, we were both really itching to go back for another church experience at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. Twenty years had been too long, and Dr. Tony Evans’ church was now nearly in our neighborhood.
This time, the young girl next to me introduced herself and welcomed us to her church. When the music started, we all stood together, and the guy on the stage began to encourage the crowd to throw off anything that hindered. It was time to worship the Lord. I felt a gentle nudge from the elbow of that sweet girl to my left as she leaned in close with a question. “Are you ready, Ms. Brenda?”
Dinner With Our Son
During the Covid-19 quarantine, it’s been nice to have our son back home from D.C. I mean, if you really want to hash out life, just sit down to dinner with a 24 year-old. There’s a whole lot of reflective thought going on in the minds of our kids these days, my friends.
One day, after all three of us had finished working remotely behind our laptops, we took a walk from our Uptown apartment to Klyde Warren Park. As we circled through, we dodged an adorable little black girl who was riding her tricycle while her parents sat close by at a table for two. Even keeping our distance, we couldn’t help but notice the delicious looking dinners they were eating out of styrofoam to-go plates. Mike knows me well, and after about the fifth time I wondered out loud where they had gotten that and what in the world was it, he said, “Do you want me to go back and ask them?”
“Aunt Irene’s,” they said. “It’s about two miles from here. We got the shrimp and sausage, but they have a lot of good food.”
Keagon quickly looked up the location, decided it was a bit too far to walk, but by this point, we simply were in too far. No way were we going to head back home to cook our own average dinner now that we had smelled the savory concoctions being enjoyed by that young black couple in the park. So, we scurried back to get the car, and Keagon drove us over to Aunt Irene’s.
Keagon went in and ordered our food. Then we sat out in the parking lot for 30 minutes waiting for it. No one really seemed to notice us, which was surprising, because it was Thursday, May 28th, and Aunt Irene’s is located on Malcolm X Boulevard, just a couple blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.
So, the three of us white people sat in our clean white car and, for a measly little half hour, observed a different way of life, a world away from our own. Soon, a kid came carrying a big sack to our car and thanked us through the window for our business. Then, we drove home, each of us thinking our own deep thoughts. It was Keagon who voiced the angst we collectively felt. “I don’t know the answer for this,” he said.
The next day was when the rioting began.
My Limited Experience
There were two black students in my high school graduating class. My daughter went to prom with a black friend who later graduated from West Point. One of my husband’s favorite work friends was a black guy who was known for his stellar manners and huge heart. One of the college students in our Sunday School class married an amazing black man who immigrated to Texas with his Rwandan family.
When my son was in kindergarten, he struck up a sweet friendship with a little girl who lived a block over. One evening at the dinner table, his sister asked him about his black friend, and he didn’t even know what she meant. “She’s not black, he said.” He literally hadn’t noticed.
I only have two black friends, but that’s twice as many as I had before we moved to Dallas. One of those friendships occurred after I prayed a year earlier for God to give me a black friend. It’s been fun to watch the stories unfold on Facebook of young white families we know who are adopting sweet black babies to raise as their own. One of my good white friends invited me to go with her white sisters and Mama to see Tyler Perry when he came to Austin. I can’t get enough of The Temptations or Earth, Wind and Fire.
We’re All Different
Basically, however, that’s all I’ve got. While there’s a little chocolate every now and then, my world is vastly vanilla. My days are spent mostly around people who are the same color as me and don’t know how to dance worth a flip.
We’re all different. God made us that way. He tells us to love one another like he loved us. And then he warns us that the devil is up to absolutely no good. I believe that ol’ roaring lion loves it when we have trouble loving each other. Get us to focus on the color of our skin? No telling how sinister is his laugh. Our Enemy loves nothing more than hatred and dissention.
So, let’s take a deep breath and keep the main thing the main thing. While police brutality is something for us all to speak out against, I think we should get off the subject of our color. Don’t you?
Understanding the Issues
As we’ve all been caught up in the whirlwind of the past two horrible weeks, I’ve tried to spend some time really thinking about the tension that’s off and running in our midst. I would much rather be joyfully singing with black believers than angrily marching with black protesters. But I do understand the issues, and I absolutely hate what happened to George Floyd.
When trying to get a better grasp on this whole thing, I’ve found myself hungering to hear what black people have to say. How do pastors address this subject from the pulpit in a Black Church? What should I be doing? As a white woman who might be able to do something, what should it be?
If you have some of the same questions, check out this amazing video (watched by half a million people already) by Dr. Tony Evans on his daughter’s Instagram account. This learned leader of a large Black Church delivers nugget after nugget of wisdom. All while in a relaxed conversation with his grandkids. Dr. Evans tells about a time when he was 16, stopped and detained by the police while on the way to his job. He answers questions from people who call in. And he covers every answer with the powerful truth of Scripture.
Engaging With People
I recently met a young man who became an attorney after several years of being a cop. He’s smart, funny, interesting and a really devoted dad. He’s also black.
While it’s hard to know what to say right now, I opted to at least say something. So I sent him an email that I was thinking about him and his family. These beautiful words were his response:
“Thank you for your heartfelt e-mail! Your encouraging words are indeed welcomed rays of sunshine, piercing the dark clouds that have blanketed our skies.
I know well many of the challenges faced by both sides; I’ve personally faced the challenges. For me, the hardest part of all this has been trying to explain to my kids our current state of affairs and the painful history that impelled that state while not tempering their enthusiasm for their America. They carry a level of optimism (perhaps naïve) about their America that encourages them to reach for heights that my skepticism questions whether my America will actually allow them to grasp.
My curtain has been pulled back completely; I know what’s back there. Their curtains have not been pulled back completely. At this stage in their development, I don’t want to pull their curtains back completely and reveal the insidious “somethings” currently residing back there. I do, however, want them to understand that “things” are indeed back there and as long as those things remain back there those things may unfortunately affect the heights my kids are able to reach.
Cynicism, skepticism, and pessimism aside, there is a part of me that remains hopeful that when it one day becomes necessary to pull their curtains back, those insidious “somethings” will no longer be there.”
Spectator No More
The first time I went to Black Church, I was a spectator. The second time I went to Black Church, I was a tourist. The third time I went to Black Church, I worshipped beside another believer.
I’m not sure she even noticed the color of my skin.
What about you? Is your story similar to mine? How have the events of the last two weeks affected you? Have you been to a church where the people are of another color? Please feel free to comment below.
Encouraging an everyday life filled with intentional adventure, made richer by friendships with someone who is different than me,