The service is at Pure Church in Birmingham, AL. I am at the heart of the South, literal marching ground of the civil rights movements in the 1950s. 50 years ago, this place was the launching ground for the black civil rights movement. This is where a revolution rang out from, a revolution that has bore the America of the present day (Rose, 1998). The sitting arrangement is oval in line with the church’s seats design.
The church is surrounded with television sets all over so as to allow the congregation gets full view of the sermons. Pictures of young people responding to the emotional charges of the priest flashes all more frequently and families across the ocean, all to Atlanta, Selma and Montgomery and Ohio all get the glimpse of the preacher and the entire proceedings of the sermon from their television sets. Throughout the history the African- American church has maintained a tenacious grip on the gospel outsourcing justice.
The congregation here are so emotionally charged and any sign of lack of emotional charge in one individual makes that person the odd one out, and therefore I had to do it as Romans do it as I was on their territory just to fit in the system for I had not been naturally sucked in the system. The congregation is dominated by the young people, majority young women of middle age. Full of energy, this group can stand for long, dance and clap with the tune of the gospel songs booming from the speakers installed around the walls of the church.
The preacher, a middle aged man with white attire, symbolizing the holiness of the place, arrives with touching and rendering tunes of the Don Moen’s popular song, ‘arise’. The preacher’s attire contradicts the general attire of the congregation, which seems to be more contemporary and have no clear cut significances of resemblance with each other. The preacher seems to understand his audience well and therefore considering his choice of the topic of the day, dating and Christianity. How well would the preacher show the concern of the modern youth?
This is why the preacher would not be irrelevant enough to choose topics like slavery, which were very relevant 50 years ago. In those years, the gospel pierced the soul and when they were laced with social injustice of slavery and racism. But today in this church, full of post- slavery people congregation, gospel edges here is shaved, sanded and smoothened such that the gospel only tickles rather pierce. In between every comment, that is, approximately after every five minutes, the sermon is refreshed with gospel music from contemporary gospel singers like Kirk Franklin.
After some time, the whole church is immersed with songs of praise. The choir on the stage, the dancers streaming in one by one with their dancing skills to prove their ability to make the word of God enjoyable rather than a boring affair. The preacher moves with the congregation in response to the rapturous songs coming from speakers. He moves around the church in order to make his work lively and keep everybody attentive. Every row is fitted with a microphone and in addition there is a wireless microphone that goes around just in case there existing one develops technical problems.
The people are expected to ask questions and make contribution to the topic of the day. Some take that opportunity to give their testimony, and some confess. Then time comes when the congregation receives blessings one by one from the preacher. People queue and pass by preacher’s section one by one, with stewards directing people. The preacher touches the fore head of individuals with some cold- like ice to bless the individual members of the congregation. My turn comes and I do the necessary, for nobody is left out.
For some visitors like me, they find it difficult to follow all these doctrines and their being new in the church could easily get noticed. When the blessing were complete, the church goes quiet and the preacher announces that it is time to reflect on our past mistakes and sins and ask for forgiveness. This takes five minutes and the during this period the church goes silent that the only sound heard is from a hissing sound friction of the wind and the roof the church. The second last phase of the service involves group discussions, where people form temporary groups to learn from each other’s personal experience.
This is part of the interactive process of the service. This process takes approximately fifteen minutes. The people seem comfortable with this session unlike the guests like us. Before I noticed that the groups were random, I could not identify myself with a group, since I did not want to be noticed. The collection of the offerings from the congregation begins after the group discussions. This process goes faster since small bags are circulated around for people to deposit their offerings. This is done as the slow and soft music streams from the speakers.
Finally the preacher calls for any visitors to rise and introduce themselves. About nine visitors stand up and do the introduction one by one, giving their personal experience with the church. With this the preacher ends service as the music continues. The service is well planned with a clearly laid down procedure and role of the preacher in guiding the congregation. The choir does their part as they keep the congregation on toes with their emotional songs. In contrast to the traditional churches, the program is completely redefined to suit the composition of the congregation.
The format is laid such that the music forms major part of the service. This is meant to contain the completely volatile group of this congregation, the youth. Then youth have proved to want something different from their fathers and forefathers (Gladys, 1993), ranging from music to sermon methodology. This is why the contemporary music of Kirk Franklin took most part of the service. The church seems to respond to the well to the youth’s social needs unlike their fathers who had experienced racial discriminations and therefore used the church as a podium to fight social injustice.
The choice of dressing code here is also contemporary. The youth are known to be opposed to uniformity of the anything as they chose to explore and anywhere that seems to preserve their identity is definitely the best option (John 2003). The building is symbolic such that the roof top is fitted with a big cross. It is also oval, such that the preacher moves around at the center of the congregation. However, in contrast to the traditional design of the church buildings, this church is fitted with television sets, an effort to reach a bigger audience who could not reach the church.
It is also a form of advertising the church such that more converts could turn out. The church does not offer any special service like Sunday school. This is visibly because the composition of the congregation is middle aged groups who are basically not yet parents. Another area which is completely different with other traditional churches is the Holy Communion. Here the Holy Communion is not part of the service, and instead the preacher does only the ritual of blessing by cold water smeared on the forehead.
This is in line with this church’s doctrine. Conclusion The modern church has gone under several evolutions with new church doctrine being introduced in place of the traditional ones (Job, 1999). However the changes that have occurred have been fused into the system. Despite all these changes, there are some doctrines which have been retained. The rituals of blessings using water dates back to the bible history where the Jewish used to be blessed with the churches (Thomas, 1995).
The symbol of cross, signifying the cross used in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, make the church complete with the tradition similar to all traditional churches like the roman catholic with all their churches having crosses. The preacher order general observation of silence just like it is observed in the Roman Catholic Church, meant for the congregation to ask for forgiveness in silence (Joe, 2001). It is therefore clear that even though things have changed significantly, the common doctrines of the churches are still observed.
Thomas, J. 1995: The legacy of African- American Church, New York, Revolution Publishers Joe, A. 2001: What’s Impressive about Briarwood Presbyterian? California, Religion Development Printers Rose, L. 1998: The Primacy of Preaching- How can we do it differently? Denver,Holy Publishers. Job L. 1999: Six Goals for Every Preacher- Bettering your approach as a preacher, New York, Revolution Publishers John F. 2003: Contemporary Church Vs Traditional one, Atlanta, Biblical Printers Gladys P. 1993: Do you have a favorite Book of The Bible, Atlanta, Biblical Printers
Courtney from Study Moose
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