5 Reasons Why I Won’t Leave the Black Church (Again)

by Rev. Dominique Atchison

A few years back I made the hard choice to leave the majority African American church and denomination where I was raised. I left because I felt we were choosing misogyny and homophobia over the Spirit of the Living God. For the sake of my sanity, I left and joined another church and denomination. It was a majority white church and affiliated with a majority white denomination. That is where I was eventually ordained and that is where I still hold my membership.

Since I was ordained I began serving as a minister in majority African American church affiliated with the same denomination that raised me. All of this made me realize that in spite all of my difficulties, there are things that my brain and my soul miss about this community. In spite of the things that sent me running and screaming away (we can talk about that more later), there are some very real things that brought me back. Here are some of those things:

1) Hope: As dark skinned black woman from the inner-city who is over the age of 30 and single, it would really seem as if there is no hope… for anything. Every statistic, article, blog, documentary, tv show or cable news report that represents my demographic seems to be pointing out negativity. How is it possible that everything about who we are is going to leave us poor, jobless, eternally single and/or dead?

This is why I love the Black Church. Because we have a remedy for that. We have a community of people who are willing to “rebuke”, “pray against”, “not receive” all of that hopelessness in the name of Jesus. If you have even a moment of doubt or hopelessness and express that in the life of the church, you will be surrounded by a group of praying folk who will NOT allow you to even go there.

2) Intergenerational Community: I love being able to see black people from newborn to over 100 all gathered in the same space. I love the opportunity the Black Church gives me to see all that my community has to offer. For me the Black Church has always been a space where people of all generations are given no choice but to care for each other and see each other’s struggles and triumphs. As a community we pray for and praise God for that 85 year old grandmother much as we do for the 13 year middle-schooler. Clearly, we don’t always get it right. Ageism exists against the old and the young in church. But there is intentionality about forming a community that welcomes people across generations. And when we do get it right it is a powerful blessing.

3) Black Jesus: No. I’m not talking about the one from the Aaron McGruder show. I am talking about the Jesus who may or may not be physically black but is certainly “ontologically black”. (Check out the writings of my former professor Dr. James Cone and other Black Theologians for more details about that big theological word.) Essentially, I’m talking about the Jesus who can “know all about our struggles” as Africans in America because he was an oppressed minority born to a single mother in less than desirable circumstances, who was harassed and killed because he defied the status quo of the oppressive majority. This is the Jesus that is often present in the Black Church in our singing and our preached word.

4) The Music: I love Black Church Music. I love percussive Gospel and Praise and Worship Music. I love the sung-too-slow old Baptist hymns. I know this may sound strange to those who aren’t from my tradition but I love singing about blood (“There is Power in the Blood”, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”, “Oh the Blood of Jesus”). I love the Spirituals (formerly known as “Old Negro Spirituals”). I love it when they are sung congregationally in traditional long meter. I love it when they are classically arranged. I love hearing songs sung, written, composed and arranged by people of African descent on days that are NOT MLK Day. I love not having to celebrate whenever someone claps on the “2 and 4”. I love that in a Black Church context you can’t just “sing”. If you’re singing Contemporary Gospel or a classically arranged Spiritual “you betta SANG”. The music can’t just be heard. It must be felt.

5) Preaching: I will be the first to admit that every once in a while, I’ve had to stop my eyes from rolling and side eye-ing during a whack “three points and a poem” “eeeearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrly Sunday morning” sermon. I am black and I am a preacher. I am fully aware that we don’t always get it right. BUT I will say have been blessed to sit under and near some of the most powerful prophetic black preaching men AND WOMEN. And similar to Black Church music, I am aware that in the Black Church you can’t just preach. “You betta PREACH!” I don’t “hoop and holler” when I preach, nor do I need to be hooped and hollered at to feel the presence of God. But I do need to feel the presence of God. And for that reason I love the fact that in preaching in Black Church it isn’t just about hearing words and understanding. It’s about “feeling” the Word and being transformed.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Rev. Dominique Chantell Atchison is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. @purplerevd

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