Moving on From My Traditional Black Church
The day before Christmas, I sat in the back row where I typically sat in my parents small, 300-person church, and thanked myself for leaving it when I did a few years prior. It was one of the first decisions I made during my “adulthood” that actually made me feel like an adult.
My family and I moved to Stone Mountain, GA right before my seventh birthday. We were leaving a small military town in Pennsylvania, and I was excited to be moving again. Every time we moved, one of the first things my parents did other than enroll us in school and get us updated on vaccinations, was to find a new church. It was their way of maintaining some sense of normalcy in our lives since my dad’s military career moved us around a lot. It was also something they wholeheartedly believed in. Like their parents, grandparents, and generations before them, they found solace in church. And while we didn’t always attend a traditional black church, we always found ourselves in a church on Sundays.
I spent years at my parents church, and I never really liked it. I loved Jesus for sure, but I learned more about God and the Bible at a camp in the Tennessee mountains every summer than I did at their church on Sundays. During the summer of 2000 when I attended Cedine Bible Camp for the first time, I had one of the most joyful and scary experiences of my life at the time. It was the night before we were to leave camp, and I had lived in every moment that the camp experience had afforded me. Sitting around a camp fire, I cried and called out to God during our prayer. I didn't know until my counselor told me that what I had done was become saved, or the act by which Christians declare Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
I was wholly unprepared for the spiritual experience I had. I also didn’t know that what I had experienced was this declaration because I had never learned about it at my parents church. It was and is still one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced—and if it weren’t for my camp counselor, I would have never known or understood it.
After I returned from camp that summer, I wanted to keep experiencing what I had felt, but no matter how involved I became in my parents church, it was still lacking something. But, at the age of ten, I had no idea what that was.
So, every Sunday, I continued. For a short period, my parents made us attend Sunday school, join the children’s and youth choir, and participate in vacation bible school. It became a burden to go to church on Sundays and sit through the long, drawn out prayers. I thought it was ridiculous to see the same members of my church "catching" the Holy Ghost every week. The sermons were uninspiring, and Bible study conspicuously never taught me anything about the Bible. Even after we were assigned to a new post in O’Fallon, IL in 2002, my parents never gave up on their traditional black church in Georgia, but by the time we moved in 2003, I did.
My lack of desire to attend a traditional black church stayed with me in undergrad. I would occasionally go to church with friends or my partner on Sundays, always vowing to go back because it made me feel full, but I was lying. I felt nothing when I went to those churches, sitting in my Sunday best, and feigning interest in the sermon. Yet, I still went. Like other black folks at my school, church was a common denominator in our lives—we all went because we had to. And if we didn’t, there was trouble.
It was and is a black thing.
The sermons either never spoke to me, or I was so put off by the traditional black church persona, that I never gave it a full chance again. I became pessimistic and disgruntled at the churches lack of pull for me. After a while, I stopped going altogether, desiring the sense of fullness I had at my summer camp, and wishing for it in spaces that weren’t fully equipped to teach me.
When I moved back into my parents home after undergrad, I decided to give their traditional church another chance. I started teaching children’s church, and got more involved in planning youth and young adult activities, but the noise and gossip turned me off. I realized their church was too old for me, and while I liked many of the people who I went to church with, I was tired of them addressing me as one of the Bruce girls, and not actually knowing my name after attending this church for nearly fifteen years. How could you not know my name after being a part of this church for over a decade? That’s how old, gossipy, traditional churches work.
So, I left.
In 2012, I took my friend up on her invitation to attend a young adult service at another church in the area. It was non-denominational, the pastor was white, and there was no choir. I was skeptical as hell.
I sat in the sanctuary of the large church, and I waited. I waited for the corny white music I had heard on brief passes of 104.7 The Fish. I waited for weird stares from white people, but none of that actually happened. There was a large mix of young adults from multiple ethnicities in the sanctuary, and the youth pastor and his black wife ended up being super dope.
After the first service, I decided to go back and I learned. I learned about the Bible, and service, and Jesus’ love for me. I learned what a church community should actually feel like, and I decided to get involved. I joined the welcome team, and I thrived around other young people who loved Jesus and Hillsong.
I thought my parents would be upset that I had chosen my own church, but they were just happy that I was attending one, and more than once a week. After being at that church for over a year, I started to notice the things that I had been missing at my traditional black church. I needed a community, and someplace where I could learn about Jesus uninhibited by what I thought was judgement from the people there.
Adulting is making decisions, good or bad, for yourself, and only for yourself. It’s okay to say when something isn’t working for you. It’s okay to move on from your traditional black church in search of something else.
Going to church shouldn’t be for anyone else but you.
I have since moved away from the church that changed me, and have joined another that is similar, except they have a dope choir and it’s led by all Haitian women.