I can’t believe this time has come. One minute I’m peeing on a pregnancy test and it seems the next I’m looking at universities and making helpful suggestions as my daughter tweaks her personal statement. Against the strange backdrop of Covid-19 and lockdown, she’s planning her future. Together online we examine curricula and campuses, check out societies, and try to get a grasp of ‘university life’. Finding a church is pretty high on the agenda. I’m reminded of the saying (or is it an urban myth?) that if young Christians move away from home to study and do not attend a church within the first three weeks away from home, they are unlikely to attend at all.
As we look at the websites of churches in the areas where she is hoping to study, it is very telling. She is of course more attuned to this than I. We visit online church services and there’s a sprinkling here and there of one black or brown person in the congregation, not to mention the odd stock photo, showing young people ‘connecting’ over a coffee. Crèche and ‘messy church’ sessions are a given, but what about if you’re over 70 and would perhaps like to ‘swipe right’? Now a website isn’t the deciding factor for attending a church, but Gen Z consume, communicate, and cancel online. Their decisions and actions are the result of an initial virtual engagement. When it comes to a local church near her university, my daughter will have to narrow her choices down and visit in person (if this virus ever allows).
We visit online church services and there’s a sprinkling here and there of one black or brown person in the congregation, not to mention the odd stock photo, showing young people ‘connecting’ over a coffee.
I’ve discussed with both my daughters the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect church. However, in my humble view, the church should be a reflection of The Kingdom – you know, ‘The Kingdom’ that Jesus spoke more about than anything else, during his time on earth. I believe that heaven is multi-aged, multicultural, neurodiverse, and there will be so much room for us ‘creative types’. So why not here on earth? My daughter wants to be part of a church family that is diverse in every sense of the word; where people agree to disagree and yet continue to walk in love. Where the old women teach the young women (Titus 2 v 4-5), where the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, and old and young men dream dreams and see visions (Joel 2 v28). It also means that women will not be silent, but speak and awaken the warrior within, like Jael (Judges 4:17-21), Deborah (Judges 4 v8), and the daughters of Phillip (Acts 21 v 8-9).
I believe that heaven is multi-aged, multicultural, neurodiverse, and there will be so much room for us ‘creative types’. So why not here on earth?
While I’m helping to compile our ‘wish list’ of churches, can we talk about worship music? Could we all agree that any form of music that resounds the praise and glory of God is worship music, not just the guitar lead genre I’d expect to hear at a Coldplay concert? There are so many ways to praise God and reflect his glory (can I introduce you to Pharaoh Sanders? Is anybody with me?). Can we go back to praising and worshipping like in the book of Psalms? Where they shouted and were loud because God is good. Battles would never have been won, or evil overcome, with anglicised civility.
Whenever my husband goes for an early morning jog, I always call out to my Heavenly Father ‘bring him home’. As a woman of colour my heart aches each time I read or hear about a man or woman who could be my son, my nephew, my husband, daughter, or sister, who has suffered brutality at the hands of police or a member of the public because of the colour of their skin. Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds and the continuous airing of the incident still rock me to the core. When I ‘say their name’ I am not invoking their spirit, I am simply recognising who they were and what took place. As I write this, the marches continue in America. They remind us and acknowledge the fact that Black Lives Matter (not more than any other lives, but that black lives should actually be valued and they do matter). Currently in Nigeria, what started as the social media campaign #ENDSARS has led to young people marching and protesting, calling an end to police oppression and brutality, demanding Nigeria’s government to scrap and end the deployment of the Nigeria Police Force Special Anti-Robbery Squad, popularly known as SARS.
As a woman of colour my heart aches each time I read or hear about a man or woman who could be my son, my nephew, my husband, daughter, or sister, who has suffered brutality at the hands of police or a member of the public because of the colour of their skin.
The church should be in tune with the heartbeat of heaven. Loving as He who first loved us, regardless of race, gender, and sexuality (yes, I said it). We need to work on removing the log in our own eye, instead of throwing shade about the splinter in our brother or sister’s eye.
The church should be in tune with the heartbeat of heaven.
We are called to pray for our leaders. So when we vote, let us be led by the Holy Spirit and not by the man or the woman with the big book behind the lectern. Let our deciding factors be based on justice, righteousness, peace, and love, more than just honing in on ‘instagrammable’ personality, sexual preferences and the rights of the unborn. If we truly care about the sanctity of life, let us also show compassion and care for the living; the homeless, the marginalised, and the unlovable.
My husband and I are raising our daughters to be powerful black women. We are teaching them to love as Jesus would love, with compassion and empathy. To take time to ‘write in the sand’ and hear the full story; to learn from other lived experiences and embrace the good in everyone. We believe as a result of this they will be strong in mind, strong in spirit, and strong in what they believe, but not so strong that they do not recognise their fragility and instead keep up a facade (Psalm 46 v 5). There will be many experiences where they will be the only one in the room who looks like them and sounds like them. They will have to ‘explain themselves’ and they will not always be allowed to be their true authentic selves. If only this wouldn’t occur on a Sunday morning at 11.00 am. In most churches across the UK, black people come to church, leaving aspects of their authenticity at the door. It’s not enough to want to hear about our culture on International Sunday or even for Black History Month. Most black people want to be part of the church family, to be fully immersed in church life and not just ‘fit in’. As my Gen Z daughter steps out into the world, I pray she can be herself at her university church.
Most black people want to be part of the church family, to be fully immersed in church life and not just ‘fit in’.
Cynthia's talk from the conference 2021.
Part two of Damian Young's story of starting a new church community.