In late 2019, well before George Floyd’s story unfolded, I took my entire family to an all-black church — Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
My 68-year-old mother had never been to an all-black church. Nor had I or my children.
My friend, Dr. Wesley, has been the Reverend there since 1988.
And let me be clear, Greater Shiloh welcomes people of all color. With that said, we were the only white people in the building. And there were several hundred families in attendance.
My oldest son asked why.
I didn’t have an answer for him. Because we had never had a conversation about race.
So I was nervous.
And I didn’t want to mess it up.
I knew the answer to his question dates back to slavery and segregation when whites and blacks were separated. But how do I explain an obvious division, well after Jim Crow laws were abolished? And especially to a child who doesn’t think anything of skin color. Meaning, if your child doesn’t see a line in the sand, how do you explain it?
But I was glad he asked the question because it made me think.
Since we are all praying to the same God, why don’t we see more churches that have an even number of blacks and whites together in 2020? Or at least a better ratio.
Many churches still remain “all black” or “all white.”
Is this intentional?
Or is it simply a habit? Tradition? Custom?
Do black people prefer it this way?
Do white people prefer it this way?
So many unknowns.
Before I answered my son’s question, I asked all three of my kids what they thought of the service.
My 8-year-old son said, “They sure do sing and dance a lot in that church mom. I like the action.”
My 4-year-old daughter said, “Can you believe all those pretty hats? Just like Fancy Nancy. I’ve never seen those at our church before, except for Easter.”
And my 10-year-old said, “That was cool. But do the members always stay in church for 3 hours? That’s a long time to pray.”
The innocence of these comments and questions made me smile. Mainly because I knew they learned something that day. Just by exposing them to a new experience, they grew.
So I answered my oldest son’s question the best I could and I also reminded him a few extra things:
- It’s ok if no one else in the room looks like you.
- Did you see how welcoming they were to our family at that church — son, you always be welcoming to every human as well.
- Keep asking questions. Questions lead to thoughts. And thoughts lead to change.
- Faith is universal. And to survive, we all need it.
- God loves every human. Big and small. Young and old. White and black.
- Exploring another human’s culture and history is a good thing. Keep educating yourself.
And most importantly:
7. If you are going to seek friends in your lifetime, don’t look at their skin, listen to how often they pray. Because if they truly love God, they will love you too.
*** If you are reading this Dr. Wesley, I am forever grateful for your teachings and your dedication to spreading the Lord’s word. ***