If I Can Make It Here...

The band I play with at church was asked to play at an African American Baptist church on Saturday. The service was filled with all of traits that one expects from an African American Baptist church: people saying "Amen" when the spirit struck them, clapping, hands in the air, etc. From a kid who grew up in an upper-middle class/rich white suburban church, it was definitely an interesting experience. For example, we only say "Amen" when it is printed in bold in our bulletin. Also, we only clap when my mother starts the applause, and that is reserved for the children's choir. Another important difference, at least from my perspective, is that the Baptist church has a sense of rhythm that is completely foreign to my congregation.

The biggest difference I found was related to the preachers. The Baptist church had your standard Fire and Brimstone preacher. When he entered the room you knew that he was the preacher, he just had that power about him. In my church, we have someone say "Now turn to x in your pew Bible as I read the Gospel for the day." In the Baptist church, the preacher just started the passage from memory, and people from the congregation just joined him from memory. He was loud when he needed to be, engaging, had the perfect preacher cadence, and the repetition of phrases that one expects from an African American Preacher. My favorite characteristic was that he used the word "Amen" like telegraph operators used the word "Stop." He would just end sentences with "Amen," and not loud in exaltation, buy quiet like he was not even aware that he was using the word.

This is in stark contrast to my preachers, who are quiet, cite sources, and have sermons that feel more like essays than anything else, and end in solemn conclusions. The Baptist preacher just started preaching, and his sermon ended with the other band starting a Hymn that he just started singing and the congregation just joined in, it was amazing. But the difference that surprised me was not the preachers, but the congregation's reaction to the preachers. In my church, the Bible verse is read, then everyone sits quietly during the sermon. We have a note in our bulletin asking people to turn off their cellphones and advising them of the existence of childcare. In the Baptist church, people were writing, or checking their text messages on their phones while the sermon was going on. In my church, we feel that if you are going to ignore the sermon, you should at least have the decency to conceal your transgression. The congregation made no such attempts. Also, people would visible disagree with the preacher, sometimes by shaking their heads.

What I realized was that in this Baptist church the preacher had to convince the congregation to come along with him. They were not just going to buy what you were saying because you were the preacher, you had to earn it. In my church, you might be figuring out your grocery list during the sermon, but you are going to shake the pastor's hand and say "Good Sermon" on your way out regardless. I have a feeling that that doesn't happen in this church. I guess what I found the most surprising was the honest reactions from the congregation. I don't want to imply that my church is filled with liars, any reaction from my congregation would be surprising.

It was a pretty interesting experience, and if I was ever going to be saved, it was going to happen after that service. And now I get to add, played in an African American Baptist Church to my rock resume, which is an important entry.

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