I was pleased to have the unexpected opportunity to attend a black Baptist church in Sacramento this past Sunday.
I have to confess while I am an Episcopal pastor my preferred style of worship is not found within my own tribe. I find most Episcopal worship to be little dry. However, the worship to be found in black Baptist churches or most Pentecostal churches can be exhilarating, can be full of music that makes you dance, can be full of drama that is experiential and participatory.
In his message on Sunday, Pastor Bryant spoke of the importance of community in helping individuals find identity. He was speaking particularly of the community of young black men and women who were aimless, or listless, or “wore their clothes funny.” He was inviting his congregation NOT to look upon these young people in judgement.
Instead, he asked the congregation to see these young people as ones crying out in the wilderness, as young people looking for an identity, a sense of self. They were looking for someone to help them find their SELF.
Pastor Bryant went on to encourage the community not to sit back and wonder why these lost souls can’t get it together.
He insisted that the church community rise up and learn to surround those searching for “personhood,” surround them in community, a community that lifts them and encourages them and holds them into a sense of selfhood. That the church form community around them so that they could have a sanctuary in which to explore their selfhood, protected from a world that constantly and continually “beats them down” and tells them who they are not.
After all, Identity is found in community.
After all, a sense of self is found in community.
After all, personhood is found in community.
Which is why, despite my above statement, I remain an Episcopalian.
It is a family religion, containing generations of priests and bishops. It is the church in which I was raised and is familiar. But, more importantly, it was the one place in which I found sanctuary when I was a youth who was having a hard time with life. It reached out and grabbed me and gave me a place to be safe, a place to stand on something solid.
The Episcopal church provided identity to a lost soul. It told me I was worthy. It mentored me. I suppose I remain an Episcopalian out of loyalty to my family, but much more out of loyalty to my SELF which was formed and shaped in and through that brand of Christianity.
Of course while I was listening to his talk it was all I could do not to jump up and give a shout out for each of you. For that is exactly the work that you all are engaged in. In community, providing the opportunity for a young person who is struggling with a sense of self, identity, personhood to begin to explore who they are.
You provide the communal lens by which they begin to see themselves as being unique and worthy.
You provide the communal voice that allows them to hear they are unique and worthy.
You provide the communal space that allows them to be safe and know that they are unique and worthy.
And it is in the community of your team that you claim them as beloved!
You are the gift!