There are few childhood experiences more memorable than my first visit to a black church, which also happened to be my first and only childhood experience of riding in cars with black people. Unless you count my brother Bret, in which case I’ve been riding in cars with half black people all my life.
Somewhere around the end of elementary school, my best friend from across the street moved, making way for our neighborhood’s first bona fide black family, the Lesters. Kenny, Shalonda, and Mama Lester, to be exact.
And while they didn’t stay long, it was long enough to invite me to church with them. Now for me, going to church was nothing new. In fact, by this time I’d already been running with Jesus since the Carter Administration. Still, having seen a few black churches on TV, I found myself excited — no, strike that, overjoyed — at the opportunity to go running with Black Jesus.
The first thing I learned about running with Black Jesus was you had to look sharp, none of those corduroy trousers and velour V-neck sweaters. While they may have been good enough for White Jesus, Black Jesus demanded better. Black Jesus demanded suits, preferably three piece suits. And since I didn’t have a suit, let alone a three piece, Kenny offered to loan me one of his, which in theory was a great idea, but in practice not so much. Not only was Kenny two years younger than me, but he was also at least two sizes smaller than me. None of which stopped Mama Lester from stuffing me into it, all the while muttering something about black mamas making way out of no way, and for me to cut out all that breathing.
And so, after about 30 minutes of pulling and prodding, and with me now looking like a busted tin of refrigerator biscuits, we were off to New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, Bishop T. L. Westbrook presiding.
Worshipping Black Jesus was everything I expected and more, starting with the ten-piece band that played like their salvation depended on it. Then there were the multiple choirs who not only sang, but moved — and I’m not talking side to side like the White Jesus choirs did. No, these choirs ran up and down the aisle, clapping, stomping, banging on tambourines. And if that wasn’t enough, parishioners began leaving their pews and joining the choirs in the aisle. Here is where it gets weird: Folks started running around, talking fast, and shaking as if they were having seizures.
Oh and get this, all this stuff happened way before the sermon, which by the way, people kept interrupting: Newsflash followers of Black Jesus, you don’t have to keep telling the preacher to preach. Turns out it’s both his title and job description. And while we’re at it, newsflash: Black preachers, you don’t have to PREACH ALL DAY! I kid you not, the service was so long it had an intermission where they sold fried chicken sandwiches downstairs.