Early in 2017, I attended a ‘multicultural church’. It’s said that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. From my experiences, I would agree. Most churches I have attended from the USA to England have been one dominant culture or another. Very rarely do I find an equal mix of people.
While I had a great experience at this new church and the overall operation of the church was better than anything I had ever experienced, I still didn’t feel at home there. This was a majority White church. Some may say, “Race doesn’t matter. God is God. It doesn’t matter what the make up of the congregation is.” While that is true, I’ll add that church is also a cultural experience. As I sat through the musical selections, I was not moved. As nice as the music was, I just couldn’t relate to the style of music. I was accustomed to and prefer Gospel music while attending church. I recall taking a few friends to various churches with me throughout the years and their response was always the same “wow, I feel like I just left a concert”. I don’t want to minimalize the Black Church experience to simply Gospel music, but music is a major compenent.
As we got into the sermon, I became even more distant. While the Gospel of Jesus may be universal, the delivery is not. The speaker was a visiting, military chaplain. Prior to going into his sermon, he spoke about life in the military. One of the things he addressed was constantly moving and the toll it took on his family. I could not imagine this and it really made me think about the sacrifices that many military families have made and continue to make as they are placed miles from home. He struck a chord with me when he said that no matter where the family moved, the family always had a Longaberger Basket on their coffee table during the holidays. They didn’t feel like they were “home” unless they had that basket.
In a previous job, the women went crazy over Longaberger baskets. I didn’t get the craze, much the same way I don’t get the Lilly Pulitzer or LulaRoe craze. To me, Longaberger baskets were ugly, overpriced baskets. And while preferences for baskets have no skin color, I can say that a majority of my circle did not obsess over Longaberger baskets the way the White women did at work. As the sermon began, I can honestly tell you that I don’t remember anything that he said. He lost me at Longaberger. Weeks later and now months later, all I remember from that sermon is the Longaberger basket.
A lesson in cultural proficiency
Last year, I was able to teach a course at my Alma Mater on Institutional Racism. During one class, we spoke about bias in education by way of IQ and other standardized testing. I even showed a clip from Good Times to further relay the point.
In the South Side of Chicago, people didn’t have saucers to put their cups on. So the point of reference was lost on the test question. Within my immediate circle, we don’t have expensive baskets as the centerpieces of our tables. So, the reference in church was lost. The aspect of not having a permanent home was touching and the fact that one object was the only real symbol of home for this family was something that could not be taken lightly. However, the overall church experience didn’t engage me culturally or speak to me in a language that engaged me.
As we head into Easter, I imagine that churches will remain largely segregated. In order for that to change, church leadership will need to become culturally proficient about other cultures outside of their own – have multi-lingual programs and a wide variety of worship music – as examples. Otherwise, they will not attract and retain a diverse congregation. And while it would be nice to have more inclusive worship on Sundays, I also appreciate that church has served an important mooring for many. In a time when segregation was legal, the Black Church served as the hub of the Black Community. For some, it may be the only time of the week to connect with those of similar cultural and/or lingquistic backgrounds.
Will I go back to this church again? Perhaps. The daycare system was pretty amazing. I recieved multiple cards in the mail after I arrived and emails. Overall, it was a good experience, but I’m going to need a little more Soul with my Jesus!