Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting my “fix”

This past Sunday, I got my “fix”!

Let me explain. As you know, from the series I wrote during Black History Month, my family and I attend a predominantly white, non-denominational, evangelical church—Christ Church. Culturally speaking, the worship style at Christ Church is white, the preaching is white, the music is white, etc. The vast majority of the time, that’s absolutely no problem with me and Catherine. For instance, as a “trained” musician (my degrees are in choral music education), I am glad we attend one of the few evangelical churches in our area that still has an organ (most evangelical churches only have a “worship band”), and still sings at least one hymn during the “blended” worship service. It’s a special treat to be able to play Christ Church’s classical electronic organ (an Ahlborn-Galanti organ, the next-best thing to a pipe organ) when I have the opportunity to substitute for our organist-pianist. Plus, the most important thing for my family is the teaching and preaching. You have to understand, given a choice between “culture” and teaching, Catherine and I chose teaching. That’s the primary reason we left the Black Church. It’s regrettable such a choice had to be made, but our church options highlight what is the greatest need in the Black Church: biblical instruction. And this is the reason those who have the educational and theological resources ought to be praying and thinking about how they can come alongside the Black Church and help bring affordable and desperately needed biblical training to the Church in the Black community.

But, I digress.

Although my family and I love the people of Christ Church, and feel perfectly comfortable and “at home”, every now and then I need my “fix” of Black culture. You have to understand: I’ve been Black all my life (just in case you didn’t notice). I was raised in a Black family, grew up in a Black neighborhood, attended a Black church, and my hair was cut by a Black barber (I still get my hair cut by a Black barber. I’m sorry, but I just can’t entrust my hair to anyone but another Black man. I don’t want anyone experimenting on my hair; I want them to know what to do.). Even at the time of death, we were Black. It was exceedingly rare for anyone in the Black community to send their dead to a White-owned funeral home. Virtually all our dead were buried by the local Black “mortician”. And, I want to state, for the record: When I die, if a Black funeral home is still available, I want Black people to prepare my body for viewing. Yes, I said “viewing”. Maybe it’s just a “Black thing”, but there’s no way in the world that I want to be cremated. No way! I don’t want a “memorial” service, either. I want a funeral service (with my remains present and accounted for, thank you), preceded by an open-casket visitation hour. I’ve already told Catherine I want to be “laid out”, dressed up, looking good—“jes’ like he’s sleep”.

So, whatever “Black” means, I’m it! And every now and then, I want to get a taste of what I grew up with.

And, Sunday was my opportunity.

My wife and I have a good friend who happened to be in town this past weekend, conducting a men’s workshop at a Black Baptist church in North Chicago, my hometown (in fact, just one block down the street from where I grew up). I found out on Saturday that he would be staying over until Sunday to preach for their Sunday morning worship service. Well, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to hear him preach again. Since the worship service that we attend at Christ Church is over at 10:20 a.m. (exactly 65 minutes) and the Black Baptist worship service in North Chicago started at 10:45, my family and I were able to take in both worship services. So, right after worship at Christ Church, we hustled out of church and drove up to North Chicago.

We arrived in time and found a seat. Almost immediately, an usher whom I knew came over to where we were seated and asked if I would like to sit with the other ministers (I anticipated this would happen). I consented. So, the usher escorted me to the pastor’s office where I waited with the pastor, my friend who is the guest preacher and three of the local preachers at this church, until time for worship to start.

At the appointed time, all six of us preachers entered the sanctuary and took our seats on the platform. After everyone was situated, the pastor quietly asked me if I would offer the prayer for the altar call later on in the worship service. I gladly agreed. For the uninitiated, the “altar call” is the moment when members of the congregation, who so desire, gather at the front of the sanctuary, in front of the pulpit (at the “altar”), for special prayer. I would liken the “altar call” prayer to a “pastoral prayer”, in that it is a prayer focused specifically on the needs of that particular congregation and, especially, those who have gathered in front.

Well, the worship commenced in typical Black Baptist church fashion. I must tell you, after hearing so much of the Christian, pop-rock music that has become standard fare in many evangelical churches, the music at this Black Baptist church was truly “music” to my ears. I knew I was back “home” the minute I entered the building and heard the Hammond organ.

Then, there were the sights. Black people, traditionally, dress up for church. True to form, the ladies had on their dresses, shoes and hats (my wife, Catherine, even “broke out” one of her wide-brimmed church hats), and the men were dressed up in their suits (I declare, in a Black Baptist church, you’ll see men’s suits in styles and colors you will never see in a white church).

Eventually, the time came for the “altar call”. The people gathered at the front as the pastor called out the names of church members who stood in need of special prayer: the sick, the home-bound, those who’ve recently lost loved ones, and others. Then the pastor introduced me:

“Let us go before the Lord, as Dr. Duncan comes to lead us in prayer” (“Dr. Duncan”?! Wow! I didn’t know I had that much edu-muh-cation!).

Personally, I feel it is difficult to pray public prayers. So many thoughts flood my mind, as I think about what to pray. You see, I want to pray meaningfully, from the heart. I also want to pray in such a way that all can join in agreement with my prayer. I want my prayers to be theologically correct. But, I don’t want my prayers to turn into preaching (a very easy thing to do, by the way). I want to be open to the leading of the Spirit. However, I don’t want my prayer to drag on forever. Because public prayer is difficult, often, before I pray publicly, I pray silently that God would help me to pray. I don’t want my public prayers to degenerate into a mere formality, neither do I want to pray to the crowd (as opposed to talking to God).

Thank God, He gave me His assistance. And thank God for the assistance of the congregation! You know, Black church folks have a way of letting you know that they’re with you, as they voice their agreement with what’s being prayed. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I know I felt great liberty in my spirit as I extolled God’s greatness, thanked Him for His goodness, and brought the needs of that particular congregation before His throne of grace. I haven’t prayed with such hearty responses “backing me up” in so long, it’s a wonder I didn’t pray the rest of the morning (Catherine says I probably prayed about 7 or 8 minutes)!

Eventually, the “altar call” ended, the choir sang, and my friend preached. He gave a great challenge to the church as he pointed out the urgent need for Black male role models for our Black boys (and girls). He preached about an hour or so (I guess he wasn’t watching the clock, either!).

It was well after 1:00 p.m. when the worship service ended. But, you know what? It didn’t matter! It was just good to be able to immerse myself in my native culture for a few hours, as we worshiped the Lord together with “my folks”.

I got my “fix”. I think I’ll be all right, now (at least, for a while).

1 comment:

Scotty J. Williams said...

I so know the feeling. I'm thinking of getting my fix some time soon.