He Taught Me How

to walk fight and pray. Oh Happy Day is the song that is in my head because I watched Henry Louis Gates new series on the Black Church. I sang. I clapped. I took notes. For those who love the “black” church, this series is an experience that starts the journey at the beginning.

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song chronicles the journey of the African American worship and praise service from its African roots and influences to the debilitating burdens slavery laid on it. Gates told the story of how something that should have sent it into extinction only sharpened its point. Captured Africans were only taught the portions of the bible that allowed them to be obedient servants, with laws put in place that forbid them to read and write. Slave owners did not want them to know the stories of Moses and how the children of Israel were freed. It struck down the lie that slavery was a means of introducing Africans to the gospel, showing that Africans were Christians long before Europeans knew who Christ was.

This documentary series celebrates the :black” church by showing the power of the Holy Spirit in an oppressed people surrendered to him. From the little wooden shacks built by freed slaves to the mega churches of the earlier 20th Century, African Americans not only built houses of worship, but they built communities that took care of each other. They built schools and taught one another to read. This project is filled with many images of these worship services that capture some of their best moments.

It took me back to that little girl sitting on the pew of that one room church house. As I watched the interviewees tell their stories of growing up in those simple times, it reminded me of my mother being in the choir. All the ladies had on the same type of dress, made by one woman in the church. They even posed for a photo after church to remember this special occasion. It was the thing that held them all together.

I learned new things about this church, of which I am a member. I never knew that preachers used to make recordings of three minute sermons. A three minute sermon? That is long gone. I am amused to know that we have been buying sermons for a mighty long time. We have been singing and dancing for that long too. It is one of the things I love about my people. There might not be a lot of hope in our current circumstances, but we know where hope is. We know it starts in community.