There must be something in the Bible about where two or more are gathered with food, Sam will be in the midst. I was on a walk at local park, when I came upon a church worship service that happened to turn into a picnic–a fun Church picnic.
As I was trekking uphill, I had spotted a crowd of people sitting in chairs, some guy with a mic (who turned out to be a priest), and a band with string instruments… lots of string instruments.
I pondered, “Looks, like a church service. Hmmm. Do I want to adjust my schedule to attend?”
I walked closer.
Since I neither received the memo about the outdoor church event nor the reminder to bring my own chair and blanket, I proceeded to the back of the crowd where people were standing and participating.
Although I no longer identify as a Christian, my belief in Jesus, God, the Universe does not put me at odds with the church.
I thought, “Churches tend promote ‘come as you are.’ Whelp, here I come. I might end up converted. Plot twist.”
Once I found a place to stand, I tried to figure out what I had committed myself to and what was happening.
One of the kind members, who observed that I was trying to make sense of my new surroundings and participate, gave me a program, which had almost everything that I needed to read aloud/respond, sing, and pray throughout the service.
I noticed that I was the only visible Black person in attendance. There were two youth and one adult People of Color. Otherwise, the congregation was a multi-generational crowd of White people.
Church is Fun
Part of the service involved one of the priests praying for members celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. One couple celebrated over 50 years of marriage. I asked the person standing next to me, “Can we go ahead and give out crowns from heaven?” These people deserve heavenly rewards right now.
Another priest announced celebrating one year of serving at the church. “Well, I was here for last year’s picnic, s/he added, but I was blending in the back. I was incognito.”
I turned to a few of the people standing in the back with me and stated, “I am blending in, too. I am incognito like her.” Several of the people laughed with me.
One woman in particular just stared at me.
It was a familiar response.
There is at least one in every church. When the pastor instructs you turn to your neighbor, there is the one who refuses to turn to you.
She could be that person.
Church is fun.
I continued listening to the service. The priest encouraged everyone to greet each other.
Many churches have special greetings, like “Praise the Lord,” “Grace and Peace,” or “Peace to you”—anything besides “Hello.” I took note of this church’s special greeting and put it to use.
One older woman came from almost across the crowd to tap me on my shoulder and say, “I am glad you are here.”
Her greeting had this sincerity that moved me. It is hard to explain.
You know how you pick up a vibe from a person? Well, she had an amazing loving presence.
Her greeting was infused with life and warmth. It was beautiful.
I take these moments to heart. Despite the hate in this world and people who go with the flow of the masses, there are people who choose love.
The woman made it a point to welcome me beyond the standard greeting because she meant it. She was not just going through the motions of the church service.
When it was time for communion, one of the greeters made it a point to invite me and another couple, who also happened to stumble upon the worship service . The program included directions for communion, too.Heck, I think the program had the recipe to make the bread for communion.
I declined and sang along with the worship band. I met one of the band members afterwards. The same joy s/he possessed when leading worship came through in our conversation.
When service ended, it was time for the picnic. Although the veggie burger almost gave me second thoughts, I was uninterested in eating at the picnic. I had plans to eat following my walk.
I chatted with one woman who was visiting the church, too. She told me about the many recent births at the church.
I replied, “I am not drinking the water nor eating the food. This church is too blessed.”
She laughed and commented about something being in the water.
Next, the woman said, “The watermelon shouldn’t be a problem for you. There is watermelon.”
I felt too amused to be offended. I thought, “I could let her comment go. However, I think I shall ask.”
If a predominantly White church has Black visitors, they need to be more culturally savvy in their engagement. Because of the history of stereotypes, if certain Black visitors feel uncomfortable in the setting as a visual minority, focusing on watermelon might not help convey a welcoming message. There could be Black people who feel comfortable and still pause at a focus on watermelon without any explanation.
These days, easing into “the watermelon” would be playing it safer rather than sorry.
The woman quickly added, “There is tea.”
Without going into detail about our entire conversation, I knew that she was not entirely racially clueless about her comment.
Besides, playing clueless is not allowed at the fun Church picnic.
I smiled and laughed, “ No, and I’m not drinking the tea. You know this is the North. It probably isn’t sweet tea.. Why did you choose watermelon?”
Not the burgers, not the hot dogs, not the chips, the slaw, the salad, not the other fruits and vegetables, or even the quinoa salad—No, she tossed context, social awareness, and cultural competency on the grill, threw the whole thing away, and chose to lead with watermelon.
Still smiling, I looked at her with an expression that read, “You know better than that.” She met my eyes and looked away without saying a word. Both of us knew.
I respect that at least the woman did not try to feign ignorance.
People across race love watermelon. A couple of weeks ago a White woman and I talked about watermelon at the supermarket.
Indeed, the White parishioners were not just eating the hotdogs and hamburgers, they were also eating fried chicken and watermelon.
Misunderstandings and mistakes will occur in cross-cultural interactions.
Considering history and context can help better navigate or even avoid them.
Fifty ‘Leven Priests
I began to walk among the masses—less like Jesus and more like Zombie. By now, more people were sitting and eating. I exchanged a few greetings here and there.
Another woman and I crossed paths, and she invited me to join her group. We talked about veggie burgers, faith, life and weird church services—good stuff.
During this conversation, I found out that the church had “fifty ‘leven” priests, two of whom I met.
Yes, once I found out there were over three priests, I stopped counting and chose “fifty ‘leven.”
One priest had much interest in inquiry and faith. A member commented that I would really like the church because of their openness to questioning. My skepticism held its place, and yet, she piqued my curiosity.
Upon leaving the fun church picnic, as I walked away with the group, one of the church members approached us. I introduced myself as one of the women’s “long lost sister.” I widened my eyes and mentioned, “She just found out this weekend—We are still processing the family secrets.”
Somehow, they still invited me back to the church.