I’ve been thinking a lot about going back to church. We essentially stopped going earlier this year. I wasn’t getting what I needed, so I just stopped going.
The UU church philosophy is a good for me, but the congregation we attended isn’t. I loved the pastor, who seemed to take a genuine interest in me and Hope after services on Sunday. Her homilies often cover topics that I’m passionate about like civil rights and racial reconciliation through a faith lens, but the congregation is not very diverse in terms of race or age–the mean age is well more than 10 years older than me. Additionally, our presence seemed to grow the congregation’s racial diversity by a third; on more than one occasion Hope and I were the only non-White folks in attendance. I wish I could say I didn’t notice this, but not acknowledging that would be absurd.
Then there was that one homily about Black Lives Matter that some of the congregants complained about at the little meet and greet right after the service. A gentleman asked me if I agreed with the pastor’s homily because he thought the pastor was getting way out of line with this BLM discussion. I was polite but firm that it was refreshing to be a part of a church with a leader who recognized the need to talk about race, injustice and how the fit in the practice of Unitarianism. He promptly excused himself to get some juice, and never rejoined the conversation he initiated. You can only imagine how welcomed I felt in that moment. #sarcasm
Shortly after the election of my discontent, I just became even warier of where I worshipped. Real talk: Honestly, it’s been a hard year trusting White folks. Yes, yes, I know #notall, but really as a larger block, White folks stayed disappointing me this year. The demographics that led to the election of the person currently occupying the American White House (I try to refrain from uttering his name, kinda like #Beetlejuice) undermined a lot of the interracial trust I’d worked hard to personally cultivate. I found the number of ministers who spoke in his favor to undermine what little remaining faith I had in the clergy, and White clergy with national platforms that I held in reasonably high regard cosigning his foolery?? Don’t even get me started. As we now ponder the upcoming Alabama election that includes a candidate who allegedly trolled for teenage girls at the local mall and thought this behavior was ok as long as he asked for permission from their parents, I am mystified by how many pastors have come to his defense. It’s hard to have faith in folks who are supposed to lead and counsel our moral compasses these days. #Istaydisappointed #whygotochurchanyway
So, yeah, I’m having a hard time reconciling what I believe and what I see in practice and how much I want to be associated with any of it and why on earth would I want Hope to be exposed. Seriously, this is a major thing when you ain’t sure you want your kid to go to church because the pastor and congregation may be publicly cosigning on some bullschnitt.
After I was grown and owning a home of my own, I have cyclically gone to church. Every few years or so I would feel very strongly the desire to go and be in fellowship somewhere. And then that desire and/or need would fade and I would step down to couch worship and then no fellowship or formal worship anywhere. I’m starting to cycle back into wanting to be in fellowship somewhere, but everything feels very different now.
As an adult, I’ve been adamant about my desire to be in fellowship in spaces that were diverse and integrated. Sundays are the most segregated day of the week; I don’t want that for myself and I don’t want that for Hope either. I also want to be somewhere that was going to be progressive in its profession and practice of faith; I’m not checking for homophobic sermons, rants about liberals or a congregation that believes that American Christians are under attack, what with all the Christian privilege in this country. I’m also not checking for pastors advancing the prosperity gospel. I’m just not interested in these and a few other key things central to my faith, but that leaves A LOT of fertile ground to talk and teach about.
But there’s something else these days: I need to be in spaces that are spiritually, psychically and racially safe. I slug it out in very White spaces day in and day out talking about and promoting diversity, and it exhausts me. I love my job, but make no mistake facilitating discussions about diversity and inclusion is not easy work, and I don’t even think I’m on the real front lines of this work. I come home sometimes spiritually and psychically empty because it’s just that hard. And although I have constructed a life in which some of my closest ride or die friends are White (and I LOVE Y’ALL so much it hurts), the day to day grind this last year has worn on my racial identity more than any other period of my life. Sitting around watching young White folks carrying tiki torches at night talkin’ bout how threatened *they* feel because some statues of Civil War losers erected purely to intimidate Black folks might come down will really mess with you. Hearing your mother, who integrated her high school 50 years ago, talk about having similar fears that she had during Jim Crow effs with you. Having a White House occupant who still believes in the guilt of the DNA exonerated Central Park Five and who will tweet nasty things at Black and brown folks who he doesn’t think are respectful or grateful enough just grates at you. Wondering what the worst case racial scenario when you’re brown or black in this country might look like in the coming years will keep you up watching the ceiling fan turn at night. These times…these times are or should be hard for the emotional and spiritually minded among us.
In thinking about all of that and feeling the need to be in fellowship somewhere, I know that more than anything I want to be in a safe space on Sunday morning. I need to be in a safe space on Sunday morning. I need that safety so that I can manage the other 6 days of the week. And #notall churches are safe for people who look like me. #reallyrealtalk
So, for the first time in more than 20 years, I’m going to start looking for a Black church to attend. I realized this after a lot of thought. It kind of goes against all the things I believe in related to diversity, but I’m at this place where…I worry that this is the only way I will make it through this particular spiritual cycle. I need to be safe, I need Hope’s spiritual journey to be safe, and my trust factor has fallen such that my desire to worship in a broader community has taken a backseat to my need for safe spiritual food.
I mentioned it to Hope recently and found that my daughter wants that kind of safety too. If she goes, she wants to be in a space with people who look like us (which by itself should be the topic of another post since how she engages and identifies as a woman of color is fraught with some serious baggage).
What does it say about the state of things when folks who really want to integrate must segregate for their own safety? Well, it doesn’t say anything new; it just says that this has been the way for so long and it’s just bubbling up and affecting more people.
And what else does it say when churches aren’t safe spaces for everyone?
Hope and I are making a list of local Black churches and will commence to visiting soon.
I’ll say this…it will be good to hear some high-quality gospel choirs. I’ve appreciated the diversity of congregations I’ve joined or visited, but the music…um, it was just ok. Nobody does gospel like Black churches, so… yeah. We look forward to visiting.
There is no guarantee that we will find what we are looking for, but I’m hopeful. Still, I do really need to sit and reconcile how this diversity professional has been run off from worshipping in diverse spaces because it’s just potentially too painful. Looking for a segregated house of worship wasn’t a part of my plan.