by Chanelle Nicole Frazier
April 1, 2015
I used to wonder if the famous ‘Black church’ was synonymous with Baptist church. And to be honest I didn’t know the ‘Black church’ was a thing ‘til I started taking African-American studies courses. Prior to college it was just church. Just church, where I got to see someone catch the Holy Ghost and wonder if they were really possessed. Just church, where I seen a gaggle of ridiculous hats, that I would come to adore as I grew older. Just church, where I was one of Gloria Harper’s many granddaughters; a title I recently used to validate my presence in the Holman Street Baptist Church pews.
As of late, I have been reconsidering the Black Church, and not the kind of reconsidering we do with our college degrees. Not recontextualizing. Just the kind in which one revisits, and perhaps returns to an idea, concept, or place that they had once been content with. I would say this moment is comparable to when one becomes old enough to realize they don’t really like McDonalds nuggets or corn or the Harry Potter series, and they drift away until its time to reconsider (I only like one of the three things I listed there, hint: RIP Dobby).
The time to reconsider does not always come. And that’s fine. Sometimes we reconsider out of desperation, fear even. And I think that’s fine too. I remember the day I decided I would return to the Black church.
I was in Cape Coast (Ghana) at a Charismatic church and things got weird. It was lights-out and the church glowed like that single, cheap fluorescent light in the middle of nowhere. So white it was maybe yellow. I remember pulling up in the cab and marveling at how bright it was. It rang like the first song of the late service at a Baptist church. Sprightly. Up-tempo. Joyous. To tell you the entire experience would exceed the word limit, so in short and almost in order, the events are as follows: the pastor is preaching in English, with a woman who is translating the sermon into Twi, despite the fact that majority of the audience speaks Fante and have to lean close to their Twi speaking neighbors for another translation. The pastor gives a sermon about releasing badness and dirtiness from the body. He begins speaking in tongues. There is no translation for tongues so instead the translator gawks-we still understand. The pastor says he sees demons flying around the church ceiling-I look up slowly. A woman sitting nearby is letting out a very shrill scream every few minutes. The shrill screams are soon accompanied by unsyncopated clapping. Both are soon ended by her catching a spirit and being dragged to the front of the church. We watch her on the big screens as she rolls around on the stage, camera zoomed in on her face and exposed legs. The pastor continues, and eventually the screaming, clapping, rolling, legs exposed lady is released and returns to her seat. The demons are no longer flying above us, as confirmed by the pastor. The line to give offerings and exit the church begins to form. As we get closer to the pastor, in his crispy pastel purple suit, I ask my God-brother if he is going to anoint me and he assures me he won’t. Despite my brothers assurance, I am indeed anointed and there is oil dripping off of my eyelashes into my eye and all over my chest. I tweet “you cannot just let anyone annoint you” in a rage of sorts, without even realizing that I spelled anoint incorrectly. We leave the church and use our cellphones to navigate our way through Cape Coast since the lights-out is yet to break. The burning in my eye from the oil was becoming increasingly painful-I decide I will be going back to church the first Sunday I get back into America.
I went to church the Sunday I got back, as declared. This all would have been last July. It is now February of 2015, and with the occurrence in Cape Coast behind me a new problem lies ahead; I haven’t been baptized. I went for counsel at church last week and the members couldn’t believe it. They gawked, just like the translator in Cape Coast the moment the pastor began speaking in tongues. Perhaps “I’ve never been baptized” is a sort of tongues in the Black church. Who knows?