The Advocate reached out to leaders across the church inviting them to share with us, and with our readers, important lessons about faith formation. This week, we present the second blog in this series.
“There’s no way I could pay you back, but my plan is to show you that I understand.” *
I understand how the stories of Black women can help us to find, situate, and anchor our lives in our relationship with God. I understand how the seed of Christian faith grew in me–my mother nurtured it in me when I was a young child. This same seed of faith drew me back to the church after I did my best to stay away from it for a decade.
Mama was born Mary Asilee Walker in Conway, Arkansas. She was the eldest child, and I am her eldest of six children. Hers was a multidisciplinary approach to our faith formation. Our formal lessons in Black church life took place each Sunday at Amos CME Church (Christian Methodist Episcopal) in Los Angeles, California. On Sundays, she would pack all of us kids (and as many of our playmates as she could) into her old car along with our pre-cooked dinner in the trunk. Then she drove us all to our church. We often spent all day there, with Sunday school in the morning followed by the 11 a.m. worship service. Once the service was over, the place became our playground until my mother called us into the fellowship hall where we would eat our dinner which she had warmed in the church kitchen. In the afternoon, there would be Christian youth activities until the night service at 7:00 p.m. Once the day was done, we headed home to get ready for school the next day. For us, church was integrated into the learning, playing, and eating life we shared with our mom, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and others in our worship community. Church was like family, and church was like home.
Mama also taught me the difference between a job and a call. This happened after one of the few White people still living on our street, cranky old Jake who always yelled at us kids to get off his lawn, lost his wife. My mother showed him hospitality and neighborliness by sending me to his door at dinner time with a plate of what she had cooked for us. I did not want this job, and I said bad things under my breath as I crossed the street to his door, but I did it. Now I understand that we are called to serve grieving people even when they are difficult to love.
Mama showed me how to respect decisions. When I turned eighteen, the church lost its relevance for me. I knew I did not feel what my mom felt in worship. Eventually, I told her I wanted to stop going. She was hurt and disappointed but said I was old enough to decide. Although she feared for my soul and my life, she did not make me go.
Ten years later, I was back in church and a follower of Jesus again. Today, as a grey-haired old man, I understand that Jesus teaches me that church is family and family is church. He calls us to serve those who are hard to love. He respects our decisions and invites us into relationship with him without demand or force. I understand him better because of the original, multidisciplinary faith formation approach used by my mama. I was trained up by her as a child in the way I should go, and I found my way back to that way.
There’s no way I can pay you back, but my plan is to show you that I understand.
You are appreciated.*
*Lyrics from the song “Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur.