This past Sunday, I went to my first ever (ever!) regular church service. There was only one other time I ever recall being at a regular church service, and it wasn't regular really, because I'm pretty sure there was a death in the family and someone asked us to go (I remember my mom was there, I don't know who died. I don't know what church it was, or how old I was)
But after spending time in WV and hearing what the Unitarian church woman (leader lady?) had to say about Mountaintop Removal and what ways they were supporting folks working to stop MTR, I thought I should give churches another chance. After all, for a lot of people, church acts as a catalyst for building strong communities, they are know for supporting each other within their church, and they sing together! But, churches also have a bad wrap sometimes, and I think it's one that is largely deserved. So, when I was sitting on a friends couch telling her I might go to a service, her housemate (and friend of mine) chimed in to say he goes, and really likes it. He also told me a bit about the church- about how they often have groups working on social justice issues, they don't preach any one belief system and that they aren't Christians!, they encourage people to leave and decide if the Unitarian church is for them, they have weekly topics on interesting issues, and that he always feels very welcome there.
I added going twice to my Winter Wish List. Twice, because I figured the first time might not be enough to make a judgment call but going at least twice would mean I'd have to go back. Give it time to digest. So, last Sunday, like I said, I went. The service starts at 10:30 am (not even very early!) and the weeks topic was about race- which is something I've spent a lot of time thinking about recently.
I show up, and it's raining a little- which is why I drove. I also drove because I knew it was up in the hills a ways (about 2.5 miles as it turns out, largely up hill) and I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get there. I also had forgotten I had been there before, for a CFI thing. It's such a beautiful place. The building is really neat, all brick with crazy windows of stained glass with tons of trees around. But i walked in- just as it is starting (because- naturally I got lost) and two friends of mine happened to be there for their first time also. Perfect!
We sat together and the services started with people lighting a candle (if they wanted to) for things they are happy or sad about. I liked that. Then the woman who was leading service that day jumped into talking about race. Particularly, she spoke about how racial lynchings were common place, how violence was acceptable, and how it was 'good people' who were participating. She showed photographs and read newspaper articles with graphic detail about people being burned alive, and what happened to their eyeballs. This made it into newspapers.
The part she really emphasized though, was that this was not that long ago. A young white girl smiling at a hanged black man in 1935 (photo above), could very possibly still be alive. She could have children, who could have children, who could have been taught (and likely were) that people of different racial makeups are bad and deserve to be hung. The ideals that allowed this years ago, may not be that far off and are still very much alive. More important, I thought, was the discussion about how socialization plays a big role in what is 'right' or 'wrong.' Churches, businesses, politicians, 'good people' all bought into the idea that black people are lesser than animals, and deserve lesser treatment than dogs. The idea being that in current society, there are things we might not believe in (or maybe do) but if we don't question beliefs or actions and if we don't challenge them, then they remain normal. It becomes acceptable to exploit and kill people or the land.
I don't know how I felt about it really. The service was good, it was interesting, and it made me think. I felt welcomed. I enjoyed singing (once I did start, at first I felt too awkward). But, it was a church. It just felt... strange.
I'll go back, at least once more.