Why I Still Go to Church

Posted on June 29, 2011 by


by Anthony Dean-Harris

I am a Christian. I have no shame in saying this. At the tender age of four, I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and have remained rather persistent in my faith for the past twenty years, steeling this faith all the while, learning what I can and reconciling a belief structure replete with incredulity in a rational but still chaotic world. Considering my adoration for the classroom setting and my overwhelming laziness (which is why I’m really not much of an autodidact), I have for much of my life stayed close to a church home, more specifically the steadily aging, shrinking Black Church. Now I’m almost 25 years old and I still attend church fairly regularly. Outside of the city of Atlanta or any other city with a large concentration of megachurches, this is a bit of an anomaly.

As a child born and raised in San Antonio, my family has called Friendship Missionary Baptist Church our home. A once shining star of the East Side, the church has a rich history. It has burned down, relocated to a school, is headed by the highly revered Rev. Dr. R. L. Archield, Sr. for over 40 years, and is the primary basis for much of my personality today. Rev. Archield’s scholarly nature and well-constructed sermons were a central plank to what is now my authorial voice. The church has fed my ever growing intellectual curiosity, given me appropriate boundaries that have guided my life, and has functioned as an initially interesting sociological study of what has been a lynchpin of my cultural background. Yet as I’ve gotten older, the church has intrigued me less so as a cultural hearth and as a loving collective of Christians and more so as an extension of scholastics that I no longer undergo in a traditional sense. Essentially, my current church’s Wednesday night bible study is the closest I’ve gotten to being in a classroom setting since I graduated from college. Learning more and more about God is the only thing keeping me in church. This is more than I can say for much of the rest of my generation, and I can’t get away from hearing folks lament about it, young and old—especially old.

Over time, the black church has driven away young people with its seemingly antiquated thinking and its overwhelming funeral-like atmosphere. It remains staid in its ways and has little desire to allow a new generation to take over new responsibilities. Time and again, I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to hear the lamentations of steadily older people complain about the lack of the church’s growth while simultaneously lambasting all of my peers. It’s akin to being the only black person in a room of whites who feels burdened to explain the legitimacy of our stereotypes, all the while attempting to contritely quash them. How does one explain respectfully to a room of retirees that its their curmudgeonly old ways that drove away everyone my age? I’ve yet to master that art, so most of the time, I keep my mouth shut and I learn what I can in the midst of the squawking.

So if this is what I have to endure, it’s a wonder why I keep going to church at all. I’m not exactly the most heartwarming Christian. Personality-wise, I’m steadily downgrading my status from misanthrope to generally antisocial. It’s not like the choir is exceptional (on a good day, my current church’s choir reaches to middling heights). But I attend church typically every Wednesday evening and every other Sunday (any more and I’ll tire myself out) because I’m taught at a nigh-seminary level class much of the time from a man with a doctorate in divinity (a real one, not one of those pastor hucksters who got the degree just for the title) with what’s essentially a pay-what-you-want price tag. I go because I know myself well enough to know I likely wouldn’t leave my spiritual development solely to myself. I go because I know my bible well enough to know there’s power in the collective whether or not I feel it quite yet. I go because this Christian walk is the only way I make sense of the world, because while I may have doubts from time to time, a world without God brings me no comfort at all.

One day, seventy or so years from now when I’m near death, if I still feel how I do now about church and still feel the same occasional twinges of doubt about God’s presence, I know I won’t feel any regret about Sundays wasted or everything I could have done if only I had kept 10% of my income for 80 years or how much happier I would have been if I would have only withheld all those hugs I begrudgingly gave at greeting time. It’s rough sometimes going to a place where I’m the youngest guy in the room in a fading institution (but I’m also a jazz journalist so it’s not like it’s not something I commonly face in other avenues), but I know what I’m there for. I know where I find my peace.

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