Sundays were always this beautiful crash of noise and colour in our church. I say Sunday owing to the fact it felt like an all-day event sometimes. In the Winter the sun would barely be in the sky when you arrived, and sometimes would be on its way back down by the time we left. My dad used to fidget and whine if he was missing any sport he kept up with, so much so he started driving separately to church so he could leave when he wanted.
But while we were there all day, there was work being done. I never understood any of it as a child, why grown people would sing, yell, or even cry about a force they've never seen. I never understood the dancing under the crescendo of hard drumming and wailing organs. To “shout” is the verb that puts it all together. The bishop would yell sing-songy incantations over the music:
BREAKTHROUGH! INCREASE! MORE THAN ENOUGH! OHHHHH! JESUS!
Folk would cry, waving their arms, and some would break out running down the aisles as the bishop continued moving the flock with his voice. It looked almost hypnotic to me at the time, the congregation locked in a trance. But as I got older I realised all the energy came from within every member of the congregation. This wasn't a performance or a holy shindig, this was something entirely different.
What it really all came down to was pain and how faith became the main catharsis for said pain. The music, the tears, the wailing for the grace of God was a cleansing of the hardships everybody faced. Black people generally suffer quietly in our day-to-day lives, the societal pressures we share bring us closer to each other, with a silent understanding of what someone has been through. But all of us knew that on Sunday there was a place to let go of all these things.
You just lost your child to violence?
Praise the Lord.
You’re due for eviction from your home?
Your power is about to be shut off?
Cry out the name of the Lord.
You’re facing racists at work?
God’s got it.
Your job is cutting back your hours?
Bring it to God.
I used to wonder why mother would cry and shout every week until I was old enough to feel all the same adult pain she did. She let her emotions flow on Sunday, every late bill or worsening cancer diagnosis was just another reason to celebrate just being. Faith was the outlet that kept life all together. Week in and week out, the pure pain of blackness weighed heavy on the souls of the congregation, and faith kept everyone going.
This is a tradition that has continued for generations. My father, now in his late 70’s, grew up the same way. With his mother and grandmother singing hymns and praises every week. Shaking off the pain of a society that was broken and physically divided. My father is about three generations away from slavery, where this tradition all began. Singing hymns, praying that the Lord would deliver you from bondage, all developed during those times. The fact that black people still have the deep need to shed the wickedness of the world around us with church all these years later shows that the minds at work that surround us in society haven't changed. We might not be enslaved, but America still doesn't want to let go of the dynamic.
We aren’t free still, the fact that we still have to release so much pain in the church shows it. That’s how a congregation of people could leave it in God’s hands when the preacher arrives in a Maybach. Because the blind faith that they put in God to deliver them from inequity also made them vulnerable to applying it to all things in life. Maybe one day God somehow answers all the prayers of our ancestors through some wild reversal of fate. Who knows, but until then the black church will always be bright and loud on Sunday.