Archive for the ‘Celebrating African American Church Culture’ Category

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts;

and though all its parts are many they form one body.  

So it is with Christ.  

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…”  

I Corinthians 12:12-13

The story continues…

I learned to cope with the singular ethnic environment, although, I still wondered what had caused the transformation and why? It is true that when one door closes God opens another. As part of our teen worship ministry the young people would visit other churches for a program called youth night or we would go to summer camp with teens from churches in our denomination. This thrilled me.  Typically these meeting would be held at suburban churches or campsites that were located far outside of the city.  My friends and I would represent the diversity.  We felt right at home unlike some other kids whose cultures were different, but their pigmentation was similar.  I felt sorry for them because they did not have our diverse upbringing.  We had met and made some awesome friends and were eager to see them every chance we could. I credit this outreach worship experience and my early upbringing with my ability to engage with multi-ethnic groups without the fear and suspicion that sometimes clouds other people’s interactions.

African-Americans and other ethnic groups have more in common than they have differences. I know the old saying, “The most racist hour in America is during church service.”  That has been true for a long time in America. It’s true some of us have different worship rituals. Some of us hold worship so sacred, that we can’t entertain the thought of trying something different in order to promote self awareness, togetherness  and understanding. It seems so simple to me. It just takes a willingness to know, the desire to try and understand those that are different from us. I am fortunate that my upbringing instilled a yearning to learn, know about, embrace and understand others. My sincere hope and prayer is that others will realize it isn’t as hard as they might think.  After all, we are all God’s children.

Thank you for allowing me to share how my spiritual journey has shaped and influenced my life. I hope God is smiling!

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“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew10:29-31

This week two women share their experiences of growing up within the African American tradition, specifically as it relates to church.  Today and tomorrow, one lady will share her story God’s hand in both diverse and single-ethnicity church environments and how God shaped her spiritual life through these events.

 I grew up in a big city where churches, cathedrals, temples and chapels adorned the landscape. As a child, my neighborhood consisted of many different ethnic groups. The love of Jesus Christ is what each group had in common.  Although, we worshiped in separate edifices our elders instilled the importance of how a spiritual upbringing would enrich our lives and set us on the path toward eternal salvation.

The diversity of my neighbors and our respect for each other’s different spiritual doctrines and cultures enabled me to learn early on the value and worth of each human being as a child of God.

Early on, I knew my neighborhood was special because of the lessons I learned in church.  “God created us all in his image.”  In Genesis, God charged us as humans with the responsibility of stewardship for the each other, for the animals, and for our home, the planet Earth.  “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world….”  Recall this standard children’s song that most of us sang.  The central theme is all about diversity.  It highlights that God intends His gospel to be spread throughout our world to everyone. His gospel is inclusive not exclusive.

 My neighborhood represented what I learned in church.  For various reasons which I didn’t know or didn’t understand, my world changed. By the time I was a teenager my community began to change from the diverse neighborhood I had known and enjoyed as a child.  I was accustomed to my multi-ethnic friends and their families.  I began to slowly only see other African-Americans in my neighborhood, which wasn’t a bad thing.  For one, I was now exposed to many more African-American churches and to legendary African-American Pastors who were skilled orators. I discovered the services were longer, the order of service was structured differently and the hymns were totally opposite of what we sang in my church. The tempo was upbeat and joyous. Had it not been for the cultural change in the makeup of my neighborhood, I would not have firsthand knowledge of African-American church customs and culture. However, I still reasoned God didn’t want me to live exclusive of other people.  At least that was the message I learned from my Pastor, who I believe spoke with authority from my heavenly father, God!

Her story continues tomorrow…

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“Worship the Lord with gladness…”

Psalms 100:2

 Today is day 3 in our week long series on two women’s spiritual journey from an African American perspective.  Today, our two writer’s teamed up to give us a quick glimpse of some of the tradition surrounding worship within the African American church.  Please note that I was told to read the section about the governance of the church with a ready sense of humor as the writer intends for us to see the humor in the list of formalities that are observed in some African American church traditions.

I have had various cultural church experiences throughout my childhood. Sometimes the congregation was comprised solely of African American people and at other times there was a mixture of ethnic groups. There are pronounced differences in church culture, customs and etiquette in an African American church. There are many rules of governance and formality that must be observed.

There is a defined hierarchy in the leadership in the African American church. Other things that are  different include, but are not limited to, the length of the service, the order of worship service; and the unwritten rules that dictate the dress code for parishioners. The proper method for approaching and whether one should address an African American pastor including where and when is critical within the church. There are many more paramount procedures central to African American church life. Such as the position of the first lady, the mother of the church, the ministry of music, ministry of education and the community outreach programs.

Another custom in the African American church is the Watch Night service. This special time for the church occurs on New Year’s Eve. It is a tremendously important service. A time for reflection and looking back over the previous year recounting how God has blessed His Church, and a time for personal testimonies.


A major part of my spiritual training involved studying and reciting verses for the elders of the church and the congregation at large.  I can still recall being nervous that I would be selected to speak. And just as nervous that I would not be chosen. 

Our church did community outreach. The members went throughout the community spreading the good news about Jesus Christ and inviting people to come and worship with us. We children were right alongside our parents encouraging the children we met to come to our church. 

Each family had an assigned seat on an assigned row. It was a special treat for us friends to be given permission to sit together on someone else’s row. Of course, we were admonished about proper conduct. Yes, we were frequently caught passing notes to one another, a big no-no! This was punishable by our after-service visitation with each other being taken away.

I had two very close friends that I was allowed to visit after church. Our parents were friends and participated in church activities together. I treasured and cherished the invite to visit with them after service. However, I didn’t get to visit one as much as I would have liked. The opportunity to spend time with her after service was rare. On those rare occasions, I can recall listening to the latest Motown records on her phonograph while sprawled across her bed.

I would literally get sick if I got caught passing notes and it was my turn to visit with my other long time friend. My mom was a terrific cook. But, I really enjoyed Sunday supper at my friends house. It was a gourmet treat. Her mom introduced me to a variety of other foods not commonly served at home.

The greatest lesson I learned from church was to be a cheerful giver. Collections were taken for every cause and the members gave and gave with open hearts. As a grateful recipient of the giving, I have structured my life to use my time, talent and resources as a cheerful giver.  Our heavenly father commands us to take care of those who are less fortunate than we are. I have found that by giving joyfully God supplies my needs just as he promised he would do. 

(The aforementioned information is presented as a quick overview and is not intended to be a thorough accounting of the church processes and policies. It was provided to acquaint and enhance your knowledge about the intricate makeup of the African American church.)


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“Look to the Lord and His strength;

seek His face always.”

Psalms 105:4

Today is Day 2 of our series on a woman’s spiritual journey and how it was impacted by the African American tradition…we are glad you joined us!  The story continues…

I remember some of the injustice’s that were done to African Americans in the 60’s and how the African American Community found strength in the church. When I say church, I’m talking about the people assembling together to seek out God for whatever the cause might be. I remember thinking about how the faith of the elders was remarkable, especially as it relates to the injustices that were happening to our people.

As a congregation, turning to God was first in many circumstances. When people were going through some really bad times, the Bible was used for sustenance. They would share first hand stories of their trials and tribulations. The stories of problems and deliverance that were told to the younger generation were passed down in a lot of ways. Of course these stories were told by permission only. When God answered prayers no one was shy about revealing how the Lord brought them through their time of trouble. There was a scheduled time for people to testify about how God had aided them through their hardships. Every detail would be shared about how and what God did to bring them relief or a resolution. I miss hearing those testimonies; it really encouraged people in the mysterious ways only God knows.

Join us tomorrow for part 3…


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“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,

that we should be called children of God!”  

I John 3:1

Today is part 1 of our series describing a woman’s spiritual journey from an African American perspective.  Later this week, another lady will share her perspective.

I remember as a young girl living in Kansas looking forward to waking up on Sunday mornings getting ready for church. I was full of excitement as I eagerly watched for the church bus that would pick us up for service. After arriving at the church my first stop was Sunday school. I loved going there because that’s where I learned about Jesus.

After Sunday school it was time to go to morning worship service. I wasn’t as excited about going there, probably because I didn’t understand what they were saying as a child. All I used to think about was, I’ll be glad when this service is over! The worship service could last up to two and a half hours or more. I thought that was too long for me, after attending Sunday school for an hour which I really enjoyed.  I thought it was asking too much for a child to sit through a lengthy service. Especially considering, I really didn’t understand  what was being taught. Finally, after the choir had sung about six songs (every verse included) and the pastor had given a sermon for up to an hour or more. Then, each auxiliary had to give their report. I was ready to leave. Even though I was ready to go, we had finally reached the point in our service time for food and fellowship which I loved.  Most Sunday’s at church there was a dinner celebrating the activity of one of the auxiliaries of the church. If there wasn’t a dinner, there was always popcorn, peanut brittle or bakery goods to purchase to help the church building fund. Oh how, I enjoyed the baked goods riding on the church bus back home.

One day when I was eleven years old, I was sitting in a morning worship service and I heard the pastor say that God loved me. The pastor told us we could know Him through His Son Jesus. I had heard this message before in Sunday school. However, It was something about the message this day that really caused me to focus my attention on what he said. After hearing that God loved me and wanted me to be a part of His family, I said a prayer and invited Jesus into my life. In the bible, John 3:16 says: For God so loved the world, that He gave His One and Only Son, and whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. I may not have understood what all that meant, but I did know that I wanted to be a part of God’s family.

I always wanted a Mom and Dad like my friends had. When I was asked the question of where my mom and dad were, I was never able to give a straight answer. I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone that both my parents had a mental illness. It was because of their mental illness that my grandparents raised me and my four siblings. So, after inviting Jesus into my life and becoming part of God’s family, my family grew. My family unit now consisted of Jesus, God, my grandparents and my siblings. What a wonderful family!

Be sure and check out part two of this story tomorrow…

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