thoughts from oak park community

Archive for June, 2011

New Stars: First Edition

New Rising Star Missionary Baptist is my new church home.  Of course quite literally it’s been my actual home for almost two years now, because I live there.  But more recently I’ve been going downstairs on Sunday morning more regularly, and their meeting of worship, their community of fellowship is becoming much more a place like home.  Which is great, because you know, it’s actually in my home.  Now if only they’d let us come in our pj’s.

It’s not all perfect though of course.  What church worship service is?  But this was different from my younger wrestlings with the way we do church and the dissatisfaction I’ve felt in the distance of services before.  Here there is a big cultural divide.  Here there is a major age gap between the majority of the congregation and myself.  And it is very different.  So different in fact, that it was really hard to go to at first.  But because of the cultural and racial differences especially, I couldn’t be critical.  It was something I didn’t understand.  And maybe in the past I’ve assumed that I understood more than I actually did about my own culture and our “church.”  So it took learning to see differently, straining my eyes, opening up myself—rather than dismissing it (though I did do that for a time).

So this is the first of a series of blog posts called “New Stars.”  Stars are often faint, and can be crowded out by too much light.  But if we allow ourselves to wander out far enough away from what we know, and if we look up into the sky long enough, some new stars will begin to emerge.  And we will see the sky more full than we knew it before.  Doesn’t that make for a nice poetic metaphor since the church is called “New Rising Star”?  Yeah I thought so too.

We’ll begin with something a little more on the humorous side.  This month is the church’s anniversary.  33 years.  In the Missionary Baptist Church (at least I think it’s common across other churches in the denomination), they call it the pastor and wife’s anniversary.  It goes on for a month and it has all these extra services.  Other Missionary Baptist churches take turns coming, bringing their choir and preacher to lead the service.  They happen nearly every Sunday afternoon (yes, after Sunday morning service has already happened as well), and also perhaps a Friday night or occasionally another time.  It’s a lot of church, especially when you also go to other churches as the visitors celebrating their anniversaries (there’s also a shared sunrise service at 6am once a month with these churches, complete with a trophy for the church with the most members, but that’s a post for another time).

So the other day in church, pastor was giving his remarks—a part of the order of worship every week (that’s another post), and as he was finishing them up he said, “alright, we got to get outta here so we can get back here.”

That made me laugh.  Not just because of the irony and humor in it, but because it also says a lot about their community.  At first I was critical of how much time they spend together doing similar worship services, but that criticism was definitely misguided.  They have an amazing closeness and knowing of each other within their community.  Their “welcome and meet time” of the service is no casual handshaking.  We all go to the center and hold hands while one of the pastors prays.  Then we spend 10 minutes walking all around the church hugging and talking.  It is a little intimidating at first, but it is wonderful.

Not to be critical of the church culture I grew up in, but I know most people get antsy if the service goes over an hour.  But though these services are longer, they also don’t have the sense that people are waiting for them to get over, checking their watches.  I know people get uncomfortable after they’ve turned and shook hands with all the people immediately around them, a lot of whom they don’t know.  But this is not an obligatory welcome to make church seem more inviting, it is deeply personal and emotional (another post for later).  And that has helped me to see something new about how we worship together.

I will now try to not wait for the time to pass and the service to be over so that I can get back to the rest of life and all the things I have to do, but perhaps sometimes look to our time ending together with anticipation of the next time we will come together, of the next time we share in community and life with the presence of God among us—even if that is just in a couple hours.