Me, AME & My Church Dilemma Continued…

10 06 2013

shieldSo I figured I should give you all an update on my church situation since many of you have been praying and checking up on me regarding this issue, and for that I say thank you.

One day after I re-read my last post about trying to find a church, I had an epiphany that a lot of the qualities that I was looking for are already in the AME church, the denomination I grew up in and left 13 years ago for what I thought at the time were “greener pastures”. AME churches have a great way of blending what’s old and what’s new, and as of late, I’ve been craving some good, old-fashioned gospel music and hymns mixed with some contemporary gospel. I also miss seeing the mothers of the church and the teenagers all worshiping in one church together. I miss seeing the stewardess ladies in their matching white suits and hats serving on communion Sunday. I miss a good choir, I miss the “bounce” of the sway when rocking to your favorite song, I miss the sound of an organ–I miss SOUL.

So with that, the past few weeks I’ve been visiting First AME Church here in Pasadena, and what a blessing it has been. These weeks have reminded me of the rich tradition that is in this denomination, as well as the strong sense of community and faith that I experienced growing up. I am reminded of the AME church’s strong commitment to scholarship and to reaching out and serving its community. I am reminded of its sense of dignity and pride that it tries to instill for every Christian, but especially for those of African descent. Now grant it, the theology there is not deep, but at least it’s not false. I disagree with some of its doctrines on things like baptism, they don’t sing any Hillsongs, and they get a #fail on the “turn to your neighbor and tell ‘em” stuff. But the gospel is being preached. I guess when I thought about it, I realized that I never left the AME church out of hurt, anger, or because they were preaching absolutely false and damaging doctrine. That was the case with some of the other churches I attended, and I think that has affected my aversion to the black church for all these years since.

I haven’t joined First AME or anything just yet. Truth be told, I’m not even 100% sure yet that I actually want to officially join there. I’m still very cautious about it all. What’s difficult about attending there is that as much as I love its self-awareness, I am also aware of the fact that there is no more diversity in the AME church than there is at any of the white churches I’ve been attending. I may not be the minority in this context, but many of my friends would be. So much for trying to be part of multicultural church. And part of me wishes that more non-black people would come there just so they can experience what I have been feeling for the past 8 years of my church life. One thing is for sure, this experience is giving me new insights into my feelings about multicultural churches and how they could best serve the various cultures that walk through their doors.

But I am enjoying myself. I feel like I am home. Who knows, maybe AME is in my blood and I was bound to come back at some point anyway. Or maybe it’s just that in all my efforts the past few years to be an advocate for the multi-cultural church, I’ve forgotten what my own cultural tradition brings to that conversation, therefore making my contribution less fruitful. Or maybe I just miss my mama ‘nem on the east coast and this is just my way of feeling close to family. Either way, for now, I’m just enjoying the experience…and the little old ladies on the front pew with their hats…

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5 responses

10 06 2013
dulaman

Yo Avril, this is awesome…i had no clue that you were AME. Whatchu know ’bout Richard Allen, shawty? LOL
I grew up AME and not only do I miss the same elements, I have the same concerns. Appreciate you sharing your journey and for the record, THE DULAS MISS YOU!!!
Enjoy your time out there and thanks again for sharing…
sam

10 06 2013
azuspeak

Saaaammm!!! Yeah I grew up AME — even while I was at LTS I was AME all the way. :-) Yeah, it’s tough. I looked up one day and felt like I was mourning the loss of myself? How do we prevent that in the multicultural church, especially for those who are leaving the black church in general out of anger (like I did). How do we still celebrate culture with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

So good to hear from you. I miss the Dulas too!! I see Myles is getting so big! You must be so proud of him. Please give Tina my love!

13 06 2013
Evan

Avril,

I think we’ve had the same struggles with the black church. I became incredibly disenchanted with my experience in the black church and I swore that I would never go back to another predominantly black church. The lack of scriptural depth, blatant false teachings, and emotional hype were too much for me. And if I ever have to tap my neighbor on the shoulder again I might shoot up the place!

After attending those kinds of churches for so long I realized that I didn’t have a firm foundation in the faith and when I left I started to attend churches that were predominantly white. And these churches seemed to take seriously the teaching of the Scriptures. Yeah, I hated the music, but I left the services wanting to get closer to Jesus. And that made all of the difference.

Did I miss the black church experience? Yes. Did I miss being spiritually dead? No. For the first time I felt like I was growing in my faith. I was learning about the Scriptures and understanding what my relationship with Jesus was really all about.

I really believe that the multicultural church is a reality. It seems reasonable to think that there are churches that represent the diversity of their congregations honestly. And I’m sure there are some really sound black churches.

Is the institution of the black church our only tie to our culture? Can we still be black and connected to our blackness outside of the church?

For me, I decided that my culture or identity as black person didn’t matter as much as growing. Should that always be the tradeoff?

I love your honesty. And I love that you’re willing to voice your struggle.

—Evan W.

13 06 2013
azuspeak

Evan, I feel you 100%. I think going back to the AME church has been more about nostalgia for me. And I guess because I already have other outlets outside of the church for good teaching and for growing in faith (seminary, small group, etc.), I felt like I could just go there and have a good time so to speak. But then last Sunday the pastor quoted Eddie Long and then it all turned into an “It’s my season” kind of message. I really wanted to walk out, as I thought to myself, “Do I really want to endure this again?” Honestly, sometimes I feel like the black church is in denial because I know way too many people who feel this same way and have left the black church because of it. I agree, my faith grew tremendously once I left and started attending what happened to be predominantly white churches.

I do still believe in the multicultural church. I do think much is still to be desired though in terms of truly embracing all cultures, not just multiple cultures embracing the dominant point of view. I’ve only been to one church that’s at least made good efforts to model that well.

I do think that we can connect to our blackness outside of the church. I guess in times past I’ve always had another outlet (i.e., attend white church, but teach at an HBCU, being around black family, etc.), but out here in LA I don’t have any family, I go to a predominantly white school and I teach at a white school, so I guess I was looking for my connection to come through the church. Maybe I just need to find a different source for that cultural connection.

*Sigh*…

Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments! This is good stuff!

25 06 2013
Lorenzo T Neal

I enjoyed reading this post. I’m an AME pastor in Mississippi ( I was Baptist and was reoboigated as an Itinerant deacon then elder). I love the balance of tradition and contemporary forwardness provided within the AME worship experience.

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