(This Part 3 of a series of posts this week on how I’ve lived out my own intersections within the church. This part 3 is broken up into 2 sections)
“Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”
I mean…I guess.
When my family moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey, I experienced a bit of an identity crisis having gone from a predominately Black American environment to an ethnically mixed, yet mostly White atmosphere. As I stated in my previous post, “The Only Black Girl”;
“I was confused and overwhelmed and I could not find one person who looked like me. I was lost. My young mind couldn’t process what was happening, therefore the only emotion I could process was confusion. I remember feeling very different.”
And I lived in that confusion for each of those 7 hour or so, school days, 5 days a week every month. I even lived in that confusion in my neighborhood. East Brunswick wasn’t as diverse as it is now. About 25 miles away was a small church of about 250 people. A traditional Black Baptist Church on that corner on Route 27 in Somerset, NJ. A place my family would soon call “our church home.” In that space, I didn’t think about “being Black”; I just was. I keep using the term “normative” in my posts, but in doing so I’m attempting to highlight how the psyche functions in spaces it deems normative. It functions as it should; intact, protected, unrestricted, relaxed. This is how I felt in that space among people who looked like me, had hair like me, family values like mine etc. It was in this space that we came together, worshiped, fellowshipped and became a community all in the name of Christ Jesus. First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens was more than a church, but one that was very active in the community, serving the neighborhood in areas of housing, employment, health care, youth and economic development. A self-sufficient predominately Black community (because there were other ethnicities represented) that had an almost Booker T. Washington-esque feel to it emphasizing racial solidarity, economic self-sufficiency, and self-help.
This wasn’t just a good thing, it was a necessary thing.
People (some) get so offended by terms like “Black church.” Especially now in contemporary society. They think it just shouldn’t be and we don’t need it anymore because we’ve “come so far”. For starters I would say they don’t understand the history of the Black church and how it came to be in the first place. I think those values were important and to just do away with them is almost disrespectful. There was, and still is, something important there for the Black community in helping to shape our identity. But more personally, here I was, a young girl who found a safe haven in this space where I wasn’t questioned for my skin or my hair. A space where I could get the history that I wasn’t getting in my history books at school, of my ancestors and elders. A space where I was allowed to exercise my gifts and grow and learn to live out community. A space where I was affirmed in my being. It was a break from having to be the model minority, the teachable moment and the only Black girl chosen just to say “we’re diverse” in my school. I’m not sure how I would have functioned if I had to experience those things in my school AND in church as well. What if I went to a multi-ethnic church growing up where the only multi-ethnic part of it was some small percentage of Blacks in the congregation and I was forced to be the only Black girl in my Sunday school class? I’m not sure where I would be as a person if not for my Black church. Now that I have gotten older, I have had to learn to navigate different spaces as a Black American Christian Woman. But not without a continued deference to my roots in the Black church, and most importantly how it stabilized my identity as a Black person in America.