Black Worshippers at Church

HOUSE OF PRAISE is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How it is both Unique and Different

Growing up in an African American Household, I remember always having to expect a good portion of my Sundays to be dedicated to church. My family, notorious for our lateness, would always leave home about ten minutes before service, knowing that we would have to travel about 45 minutes to get there. And regardless of how late we were, we could always expect to have four to five hours of church activities ahead of us.

I had grown up with this as the norm, but over time I became aware of the stark differences between the churches I attended with my family vs. others. After I started attending Christian schools, I went my school’s services every other week, alternating with my family’s home church. The differences were too great to ignore, from the way the church was formatted, to even how I dressed for each respective church. I decided to delve further into this phenomenon.

I wanted to know why these two environments contrasted each other so greatly. More specifically, I wanted to know why Black churches have become their own ecosystem that vastly contrasts other churches of the same Faith. What could be responsible for such a phenomenon?

“The Black Church” is definitely not a new term. Christianity has been an integral part of the Black community dating back to the mid-1700s.  During the era of slavery in America, churches were used as a safe haven for most slaves. It was a way for those isolated from family to connect with their past culture left behind.  According to the African American Registry, “Religion offered a means of catharsis…Africans retained their faith in God and found refuge in their churches.”

Church was a way for Black Slaves to form a community within an environment that actively tried to instill a sense of loneliness and hopelessness within them.  “Organized politically and spiritually, Black churches were not only given to the teachings of Christianity but they were faithfully relied upon to address the specific issues which affected their members.”

Following the Civil War, Black churches really became the epicenter and foundation of the Black community in America. At this period, the “Black Church” became more than just a community gathering, it became a lifestyle. Within it, African Americans found a voice for their faith, their identities, and their culture. Since then, one can see so many connections to how Black Culture has been altered due to the church.

Church Music

As opposed to the Christian churches I attended through school that took a maximum of 1-2 hours, the Black Church lasted for 2-4 hours regularly. This can be accredited to the fact that not only did one have the lengthy services, but also an extended time of worship and praise, which consisted of dancing, shouting, and singing.

This specific element of black church culture has always been a hot topic as well. Church worship through fast-paced dancing also known as “Praise Breaks”, and incredible songs are known as “Sunday Best” have been pillars of the Black church for a long time. Contrasting typical Christian Songs in other churches, Black churches have paved the way for a different style within the genre itself. Featuring powerful high notes, and music with pop, funk, jazz, and RnB influences, Sunday Best Music has been extolled over decades.

It has become so well integrated into the community, that there have even been TV shows and music competitions for the specific mini genre. In addition, it has also become a staple within Black media.

Many famous Black actresses and actors like Taraji P. Henson and  Tamela Mann all started their careers within churches. Additionally, top grossing films starring Black Leads have always had a church or religious elements integrated into the plot, some even featuring iconic Black Pastors like Eddie Long and Marvin Williams to play lead roles. Black Culture has given a new opportunity for religion to incorporate itself into all aspects.

The Service

Following worship, was service , which consisted of the sermon by those famously known as Whooping Preachers. “Whooping is a celebratory style of black preaching that pastors typically use to close a sermon. Some church scholars compare it to opera; it’s that moment the sermon segues into song…Whooping pastors use chanting, melody, and call-and-response preaching to reach parishioners in a place where abstract preaching cannot penetrate”, according to John Blake of CNN.

This style can be seen not only in Black Churches but also in the realm of politics. Historically, Black leaders and activists, like Martin Luther King Jr. also relied on this speaking style to rally the Black community. It has become as a staple within black churches because of its power and unifying effect.

Church Attire

During my Christian school years, I realized that within my school’s church-one of predominantly white members- the attire was more casual. With  “informal churches” gaining popularity in the United States, the attire within most churches has also adapted to this change, allowing for more informal attire to become socially acceptable within church. However, within Black churches, this phenomenon has been similar to a water over a rock.

Fashion has always been a pillar in Black church.  Black women used and continue to use church attire as a way of not only cherishing the Lord but also as a way of creating an identity. Brands, Conventions, and blogs all have been dedicated to this one specific area of fashion. It speaks to the volume of importance that the styles play in the community.

All in all, the Black Church is and will always be more than just an organization to the Black Community. It is a symbol. A symbol of the progress and struggle of those before us. It is a way to connect with those who identify, who feel, and who experience life through the same lens, and it stretches far beyond church walls. A quote from Nicole Symmonds article “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Black Church” explains it best:

“I can say a great many things about what I wish people knew about the black church, but I will leave you with this last thought: the black church has touched the world beyond its walls. From its bent toward social justice, which has helped mobilized people for decades, to its soulful music, which has moved people of all races and ethnicities, to its compelling preaching style, which has shaped the course of American history, traces of the black church can be felt all around us.”

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