The other day, someone asked me something close to either what denomination I was or my faith tradition, I can’t remember the exact wording. Well, it’s a bit complicated. I started out in a black Baptist church, went to a white Presbyterian Church for a while, shopped around at some non-denominational churches (both black and white) and most recently I go to a church started by Virginia Baptist, that heavily leans on the Episcopal liturgy and tradition. What does that make me? I am not sure, but I begin to think about this and was reflecting how these experiences has deeply shaped me in some way, all were gifts.
In the Black Baptist Church I started out with in DC, in perhaps being around black church folk in general, I feel like I received the gift of praise and worship. The only reason I even started going to church is because a bunch of my friends were in the gospel choir on Georgetown’s campus and I went to hear them sing. I never stopped going, even on the two weekends a month they didn’t sing. There is something about black people and worship that is a total gift to the world. The music, the rhythm, the clapping, the dancing and sheer joy. Whether it’s crying out to God at times in anguish, or declaring victory in the face of trial or just singing praises to God, I love it all. In lifting up of the soul in spirit filled song to God, the soul is lifted. The previous 3.5 years were difficult at times, music was key, probably 7-8 songs got me through. I sang them when the words didn’t feel true but I wanted them to be. They spoke to my situation, lifted my soul and connected me to God like nothing else. I am glad I started there, I am glad I know how to praise my way through something.
The Presbyterian Church I went to was completely different from my previous church, in many many ways, but I feel like my time there gave me a love of truth and helped me shape a Christian worldview. Being there made me think about, who God is, who he has made me to be and what that meant for my vocation, my politics and my decisions in life. It helped me begin to work through what I really believed. I’m not a Presbyterian theologically, but I really appreciated the time, energy, and thought put into trying to understand God’s word and how to live according to it. Because it was so different, in demographics, in political views, in theology and worship, I had to learn to love people who were in most ways different from me, I had to learn to hear God’s words preached in a different manner, I had to learn (this was most difficult) to worship God another way, with different words, songs and instruments. In a sense I had to get over myself and out of my comfort zone. It was good for me though, having my identity in Christ diffused from my own racial, cultural and personal preferences. I had to see God in others that I didn’t agree with and relate to, befriend and worship with believers on the other side of the fence. It helped me to learn to love and to decipher what I did and didn’t believe for myself.
My last church experience, the church I have been in for the longest in my life was perhaps one of the most transformative…So many gifts. The other day I walked into a church and was looking for the program, but there was none. It made me think of how much I appreciated liturgy. I think All Souls gave me both a love for tradition while teaching me to open and sensitive to the ways God is moving, working and speaking right now. I appreciated having our time together shaped by the church calendar and entering into advent, epiphany, Pentecost, and even ordinary time. I liked the reading of the new and Old Testament in the worship service and reciting various creeds crafted long ago. It was restful to know that I was participating in rituals that were centuries old. I learned different ways to pray, to read scripture, to watch for God. One of the best takeaways was seeing God as a benevolent that was FOR me, inviting me into something good and beautiful. I always found myself thinking what is God saying to me in the mist of this…what is the invitation? Heaped on all the tradition was this openness, a freedom, and friendship. I don’t know if I have ever heard the word hospitality so much as I have in the past few years, the idea of being open and welcoming to God, to love, to people, to even the joys and sorrows that come with life. All Souls taught me that there is space for it all, that I can walk through and welcome it all. That felt like a relief, that I could be where I was, and that God was there too. Refreshing. I think ultimately, I learned to be more human there, more myself. What a gift!
Being here, I am among so many different kinds of Christians. I had dinner with a catholic, Methodist and Baptist the other day. I am glad I can worship with different people, and had the opportunity to receive from various traditions. This morning, Ms. Patricia one of our hospitality assistants greeted us as she walked into the kitchen, “Good morning Children of the Most High God.” Yes, that is what I am, a Child of God, a Child of the King…that seems good and right and true for us all.