Value the many different sources of knowledge that exist is one of the Rules of Engagement that we use in our program, and it is also the theme of my latest installment in the adventures of cultural tourist. I began this series last month with an introduction and this month I’ll take you on my first adventure: attending a worship service at an African-American church.
Religion in our country is often a very personal and very segregated experience. I’ll admit that my own religious experience is limited to sporadically attending Catholic services, attending a Catholic college, and more recently exploring the services at a local Unitarian Universalist church. All of which were mostly all-white congregations.
That’s why when a close friend asked me to attend a service with him at his African-American church, I said, “yes.” What came next is something I was unprepared for.
Walking into the “church” which appeared to be just a small nondescript building on the outskirts of the city, I was greeted warmly by the other members of the church, who were excited to meet me. Such gregariousness took me aback. My friend and I sat near the front of the church, right next to a large speaker.
For about the next hour, that large speaker blared music, while members of the congregation joyfully sang and danced. I kept leaning into my friend asking him when the sermon was going to start. I was getting antsy. Our cultue is so rooted in instant gratification that I expected that after an hour the service should be over and not just starting!
The service concluded about three hours later, and I was exhausted. You may wonder why, since I wasn’t up there singing and dancing and preaching, I was just sitting in my seat the entire time. Well, as an introvert my energy is easily drained being surrounded by such extroversion. So much so, that afterward, when several people asked me how I enjoyed the service I replied, “that it was much different than what I was used to and that I was tired.” They laughed and probably thought I was a little weird.
Culturally speaking, the church services I attended all my life were more introspective and less about outwardly expressing your religion. I mentioned this recently to a friend, who said that’s why, although white, he was looking to join an African-American church, because if he wanted to silently contemplate his faith he could sit home and do that by himself. He expressed that he was more interested in being around others who were not only spiritually but physically engaged in their religion.
I had not thought about this before and had taken for granted that all religious services required you to be a passive rather than an active participant. It was my start at valuing the various sources of information and perspectives that exist around race and religion in our country. I realize now that I have a long way to go to learn more about this and relish in the exploration.