Nothing is more powerful than the black church experience. A good choir and a good sermon in the black church; it’s pretty hard not to be moved and be transported.- President Barack Obama
It could be easily argued that no institution carries more influence, power and importance in the African American community than the church. Since the days of slavery and even now, many African Americans continue to turn to the church as not only a place to commune with God and fellowship with family and community, but as a refuge and safe haven from the injustices of everyday life.
We spoke with several individuals to learn more about the black church experience, and what role the church has played in shaping their lives.
“The church is the safe haven. It’s the hospital. It’s whatever that you need. And so, when we come in, it’s …assembling, because that is our time to draw strength from one another… When we come together in that setting it is a collective effort to let God know in one voice that we love him. We worship him. We honor him for all that he’s done, and not just that, but what he’s doing right now.
So when a visitor comes, there’s going to be an atmosphere of worship, they’re probably going to see an atmosphere of praise where … you’ll see folks dancing and…the drums going. I can praise God…when the Holy Ghost hit I might run across that altar…so when they see the people of God dancing it is not a show. It is an expression of God did this, or God has not done this yet but I believe he’s gonna do it. So, it’s a faith-based thing.”
“I’m a Baptist and I attend a little church. You go in at 10 a.m. , the choir’s gonna come up and then they sing about 6 songs and it takes about 15 minutes. Service starts at 11 and we get out by 12:30 p.m. Sometimes 1 p.m. it’s really a lot of energy, a lot of motivation, and the pastor preaches on current events. He talks about what’s going on now and that it’s important we vote; We need to be aware who our politicians are; We need to be accountable, we need to go out and get people to vote. He talks about current events but he ties it into the scripture. And so, if you come, you probably won’t be able to go to sleep.”
“I was raised as a Muslim and converted to Christianity when I got baptized at 14 years old. Growing up, religion wasn’t really forced on me by my parents. But after losing my dad, I turned to religion to help me guide me in life. I discovered a local church where I built camaraderie with people who walked through similar situations as me, which brought me closer to God. Serving at my church definitely helps to keep me grounded, and overall, my faith gives me clarity in the direction of where my life is headed.”
“I look back on my life and say, wow, I was really a mess. I think without Christ in my life, I probably would’ve been in jail a long time ago. When I come [to church], that’s the place that I can just be. And when it just hits you [and you get that feeling], “I have made it through the week.” Sometimes it comes out in a holler or just the praise, and you say, “Thank you, God.”
When I come into the office some days, I just need to bring out my praise [and say], “Thank you Lord, I didn’t let that bother me.” So, it’s just been a great… to say that I know who God is, and I KNOW what he’s done for me, and that’s where my praise and my thanks giving, and my humility comes from, the God that I know.”
“The black church or predominantly black churches, they do praise AND worship. You know what I mean? Usually you go to church and it’s a lot of worship, which is very communicative with God.
Praise is communing with God. A lot of people at church, their eyes are closed, they’re crying, their hands are raised or outstretched. That’s the time they’re speaking to God, they’re pouring their heart out to him. You know, just communing with God to make sure that, you know, you cast your cares on him, all that good stuff. And praise is the thankfulness for the things that he’s done — an outward expression of your thankfulness. Some people dance, some people cry, some people sing as loud as they can. Some people clap, and shout, jump around. So, you know, [it’s] more of an outward showing.”
“The church is so foundational. There’s a statement that says that the local church is the hope of the world. Looking back as I reflect on growing up in the church, all I’ve ever known is church in my life to be honest with you.
I don’t know what it’s like to get up on a Sunday morning and not go to church. Even if I’m on vacation, I’m looking for a church or I’m on online looking for a church. And not because of a position, but when you have a relationship that most of the time comes by us being in the church with God, you understand that responsibility that you have.
Most of what folks I grew up with in my church, who have done anything worth anything, we all got it at the church.
I grew up in a day… when you didn’t get asked if you were gonna go to church. I’m number 9 out of 10 children and none of us negotiated whether or not we were gonna go. And I’m so glad they didn’t give me an option because Romans 10:17 came to life. It simply says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. I didn’t know that all that time I was sitting on the back row, what was happening at church by the Word of God was into me, and the next thing I know … I’m on the second row, first row, and now I’m behind the pulpit, and the rest is history.”
In celebration of Black History Month, North Lake College has created a series of blog posts and videos to dispel stereotypes while celebrating cultural diversity in the African American community. We strongly encourage you to share these stories and to join in on the conversation. To learn more about the series visit blog.northlakecollege.edu/nlccelebratesbhm.