Once we moved to Sacramento and joined our 99% white “church family”, to my surprise, there was no praise dance team. I brought it up of course, wanting to start a group, but the church leaders didn’t know what it was and weren’t inclined to start a program led by an eight year old. I was disappointed, but I got over it. I didn’t think the church was big on dance in general. You could certainly tell by the worship segments. People. Hardly. Moved. There were no voices ringing out singing praises of “Amen! Hallelujah! Glory to the Most High!” Except for my mother. My mother who received a “talking to” from the first lady of the church who informed her that she was being disruptive. And guess who decided to stay at that church?!! Ding! Ding! My parents. This place was not for us. My mother joined the worship team for a while but it stifled her voice, and her spirit of worship. She was not meant for the background. Eventually, she quit saying it wasn’t for her.
I had my own experience with the youth worship team. Not too dissimilar to my mother’s experience, it seemed like a personal attack against me. At the very least neglectful. I went to worship practice every week and learned the words and harmonies with my sisters and my best friend Jo. We were never awarded any solos, save for one distinct time I remember when I had a very small part in a song. The lead singer hugged me, more like stifled me in a hug, and ranted about how cute I sounded. During this time I was a pre-teen. The kicker, was, I started to notice that in that school gym we met in once a week after school, when it was time to worship and all the lights were turned down, and the band began to sing praises, I could not hear myself at all. Not in the background, and not in the spaces where you should only hear background. I asked my best friend or my sister, whoever was in the audience at the time, to listen for my voice. I would even sing when I knew there would be a gap to give them a better chance at hearing me. When the band came off the stage, I would sneak back into my seat, check in with them, and they would tell me “I couldn’t hear you at all.” The next time we ran sound check, I called out to the sound guy, and told him to turn me up because I couldn’t hear myself. I saw him turn the mic up, and quickly turn it back down. At the time, I was angry, and shocked, and powerless to do anything. I was at the very bottom of the pecking order.
You see, this church was a “breakaway church” from a megachurch in the area. A man from this super church decided to start his own. This man, and his family, lived across the street from us in our cozy little cul-de-sac. The first church services took place in their living room. My sisters and I would play upstairs with Pastor’s two sons, and daughter and the few other kids that were close to the Pastor’s family. After some time, I’m not sure how much, we graduated and began meeting at none other than my own elementary school for church. This meant setting up and tearing down all the chairs, equipment, rugs, and curtains. My parents, signed us up for this. Meaning quite often, we would have to get up early to set up, and then hang around after church until it was all cleaned up. This could have been fun, if any of the other kids my age gave a shit about me, but they didn’t. They cared about being popular and socializing with the pastors’ kids and their close friends. And to make it worse, the children’s pastors were part of that group!! Though I had started with the nuclear group of kids from this church, I was never really friends with them. I didn’t realize it, but the youth pastors (more than one graced us with their presence over the years) were in their early twenties, and acted very similarly to the older teens. They all ran the show. The pastors liked to socialize with and please the pastors kids and their clique. My sisters, and I and our friends, also Black, were not picked to participate as much in games and our input was never really considered when asking what activities and games the youth group wanted to do. Nevertheless, I still had a desire to play every game, be a part of all the activities, and be as involved as I could. This was our way of life, and I wanted to be accepted.
But even as a child, you can tell when people are rolling their eyes or giggling to each other when you talk to them. You can tell when no one actually cares about what you’re saying and they’re just humoring you. You can tell when you’re not really a part of something.
Feeling like I didn’t belong there continued until I went to college. By the time I was in my late teens, my best friend’s family only went to the second service, and of course our family went to the first service. The early one. The other handful of teens my age, weren’t my friends. I felt very alone. So I would try and occupy my time volunteering in the nursery or with kid’s church. Kid’s church was pretty fun because they had bounce houses, and games, and it was more entertaining being a leader there. One thing I did notice that bothered me, was that the children’s pastor was always separating the boys and the girls with how they sat and also during games. Almost every Sunday and every major game, he would ask them how they wanted to split up. He would ask “Should we do boys against girls?” and the girls repeatedly said no, and the boys repeatedly yelled “YEEEES!” They preferred this arrangement because they were more aggressive, competitive, and physically more adept at the games that were often played. For example dodge ball, or a relay race. It wasn’t physically even, but it was also teaching them that the opposite gender was more of an opponent. It wasn’t showing them the ways that they could work together as a team and use their strengths for the others’ weakness. Girls and boys aren’t that different. Sure there are a few hormonal and physical differences, but we all, eat, sleep, talk, feel, love, hate, live very similarly. It’s only our parents and society that drill into us that we’re so different and have to act different.
Volunteering and keeping busy was a way to keep myself out of “big church” as we called it. The adult service. It wasn’t nearly as long as the baptist ones, thank the Lort (yes that was intentional), but the sermons often didn’t speak to me. They didn’t seem to gel well with modern day life. I wanted to learn about how to live in this world today as a light to others. Sometimes I took a journal with me, taking notes. It was one way to stimulate myself and try and keep from falling asleep. Sometimes I would hear things that were encouraging, but I never found myself really enjoying service or wanting to go back. god didn’t talk to me, and the brief interactions I had with other church members felt forced, overly happy, and fake. In my later teen years, wandering around after service talking to familiar church members, my younger sister Ann commented that my laugh sounded super fake. Well it was Ann, thank you. But her comment was a bit of a wake up call. I was not where I was supposed to be, I was acting.