Faith and Family
February 20, 2015
Last Sunday I travelled across Washington, DC to the Southern Baptist Church Praise and Worship Center near L Street and 1st Street downtown. Southern Baptist Church PWC is a relatively small but lively church. Founded in 1927, they have continued to grow heartily despite moving locations repeatedly. They now offer a range of services and community resources, including a women’s ministry (Daughters of the Covenant Promise). Before I even begin to reflect on my experience, I want to address the question that is probably on your mind. Yes, I was the only white person in the church that morning. As I first walked in, I worried that this would make me an outsider in the small church community. But if anything, it actually caused the congregation to embrace me even more fully. The people I met were perhaps the most welcoming I have ever encountered. Everyone who passed me said good morning as if they had seen me in the pew every Sunday. The bishop, pastor, and deacon all came to personally welcome me, and the women of the church crowded around to say hello and express how happy they were that I came out to see them that morning. I felt like I belonged in a place I had never set foot in before.
What was extremely impressive to me was the intense feeling of community present in the church. These people were not just individuals who would came together every Sunday. I had walked into a family. The service began with the Men’s Choir joined by the church band, which included a synthesizer, keyboard, guitar, saxophone, and drum set. The congregation stood to clap and sing along with the men as they belted soulful hymns. Throughout the service, the men would rise to offer a musical celebration of God’s power. When the preacher delivered his sermon on the importance of love and family, I felt the continued energy of the service. Church members would shout out in support of the preacher’s words. In fact, the preacher responded most strongly when he heard energetic calls from the pews.
The relaxed environment was very different from any Methodist or Catholic service I had attended. In these faith traditions, the congregation is expected to show their love and respect by remaining quiet during the sermon. But here at this Baptist service, it seemed disrespectful to be shy about your religious feelings. At first, I was uncomfortable. I had been trained to sit quietly; talking in church was tantamount to talking back to a parent. I didn’t feel as though I could speak up. As the service continued, though, I found myself clapping and head nodding along with the preacher’s words. I hadn’t yet reached a level of fully expressing myself during the service like the rest of the congregation, but I was getting there.
I believe this relaxed church atmosphere of passionate shouts contributed to the feeling I had of witnessing a family come together to worship. These church-goers were not experiencing the service and the Lord’s word as individuals; they were all together in the worship of God. At my previous church, the pews were always full with loyal church-goers. I knew many of them and we would offer a kind “good morning” or “how are you?” every Sunday. This was a family. Everyone knew and cared for one another. The difference, however, in my experience at Southern Baptist PWC is that their family ran deeper and their sense of community translated into the worship service. I would certainly return again in order to feel that sense of closeness with people I had just met. It’s remarkable to walk into a space and feel instantly like you belong.