“Witnessing for Christ since 1886.”
February 23, 2020, 11 AM
I set out to visit a second AME church, but when I arrived, the building looked almost boarded up. There were only a few cars parked on the side street and I didn’t see anyone entering the church. I pictured something like the last AME church and I just couldn’t see repeating that experience, although it was interesting. So, I decided to try a nearby large Presbyterian church. On the way, however, I passed a smaller church where people were entering the front doors and I decided to stop there. So, that’s how I ended up at this Baptist church.
I entered the front doors and about five or so men stood in front, trying to lead congregational singing–acapella. It wasn’t going very well. They seemed to neither know the words nor have strong singing voices. At one point, they started humming. Plus with only a handful of folks in the pews, they didn’t have much to work with. I sat down in the last row and was promptly greeted by at least five people. The only other white person, a man standing in the altar area, turned out to be the pastor. Later, another white man arrived for worship. However, this church appeared to be predominantly, and probably historically, a black Baptist church. I’m not sure if there’s any difference between this and the mostly white Baptist churches I have visited. They don’t have a website and the church’s Facebook page didn’t provide any information either.
The all-women choir in white shirts processed down the aisle singing, “Do Lord, Do Lord, Do Remember Me.” The elderly pianist, also the choir director, sometimes led the small band of singers with one hand, while playing piano with the other. Throughout the service, they sang about five or six “Negro Spirituals,” to commemorate Black History Month. With a guitarist and a drummer, the music was, by far, the most uplifting part of the two hour service.
I kept wondering about the group of men who had tried to lead the congregational singing at the beginning. They all sat along the right wall of the sanctuary during the service. Turns out, they’re the Deacons, and they also helped with the offering and the communion time. Seems they stay there along the wall for when they need to spring into action.
A few of the Deacons brought around baskets for the “missions” offering. I plopped in my gift, not realizing that a second general offering would require us to go up to the plates. Finally, after an hour, the pastor stood in the pulpit.
Now, I’m sure he’s a nice guy. And maybe he’s even a caring and attentive pastor. But as a preacher in a black Baptist church, the fit is all wrong. His soft spoken, generalizations about Psalm 1 fell woefully short of inspiring or thought provoking. Luckily, there was a little word finder puzzle in the bulletin which distracted me for about twenty minutes. Sadly though, he spoke for about forty minutes. Another tell-tale sign that he wasn’t up to par, preaching-wise, was that the congregation stayed mostly quiet. In every black church I have been in, the congregants always show their support, attention, and respect for the sermon by saying or shouting, “amen,” “hallelujah,” “preach,” “I know that,” or other words of encouragement. This group gave very little feedback.
It’s both amazing and astounding how congregations put up with lousy preaching. It’s a testimony to their patience and their love of God and church. But I did wonder if this is why there were only about twenty worshippers in the pews. Almost an equal number made up the Deacons, choir, musicians and ushers. Without a formal role in the worship service, maybe a lot of folks just stay home. I can’t blame them.
I was hopeful that things would wrap up quickly after the sermon. But the pastor gave a ten-minute altar call. Then, we moved into the communion time. A Deacon asked if anyone wanted to share anything. About six people stood up and said how much they felt blessed by God or how much this church meant to them. One man even said the pastor’s words on Psalm 1 really spoke to him. Obviously, I didn’t hear the same sermon. I wish this testimony time could have replaced the sermon–it was much more authentic and relatable. Finally, after the Deacons passed out the bread and the communion cups, the pastor read from 1 Corinthians 11, and we all partook together from our seats. I find it interesting that some churches have you bring forward an offering, but stay seated for communion. My experience has always been stay seated for the offering and go forward for communion.
The service concluded at the two hour point. I stood to leave and was greeted by a few more folks. One woman ran after me to hand me two Daily Bread booklets. Despite the long length of the service and pastor’s dreary sermon, this is a friendly church and it PASSED the WELCOME TEST.