Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I'm Down for that Good Old-Time Religion
Tonight, I spent over two hours at a gospel sing-along at the New Hope Baptist Church in Burlington, North Carolina.
I'd always believed the stereotype... you know, that African-American churches are the most flamboyant in the South. That they're full of sweaty, fire-n-brimstone preachers hollering out "Amens!" and "Keep on warring! Keep on the battlefield for Christ!" That these places are full of devout, emotional worshippers who tear off their clothes mid-sermon and run screaming down the walkways, stopping only to jump up and down on their pews.
... Well, they aren't the only ones.
Enter the New Hope Baptists. Ordinary, conservative, polite-looking white folks who show up to a Tuesday night gospel singing in seersucker suits, floral printed knee-length dresses and tasteful pearl-handled gloves.
They line up nicely in their pews, families sitting together, friends saying their hellos... it's all quiet, kind, reserved politeness resembling the behavior of their English ancestors...
And then, the music starts.
Two verses into "Over Yonder," followed by "Three Men on the Mountain," and I'm surrounded by sobbing, shaking old ladies blowing snot into their lace handkerchiefs while screaming "Praise Jesus!" and "That's right, brother! You tell that Devil to git back!"
Their husbands waved their hands frantically, mixing the air with aggressive exuberance. One elderly fellow in a blue wool getup with brass buttons and what looked like a pace-maker jumped up from his seat and did a couple laps around the sanctuary, sprinting like a track star. This was the kind of guy you'd see ordering tapioca pudding at the K&W Cafeteria. If I'd seen him walking through the mall, I'd wonder if he'd left his good walker at home. This "old-time religion stuff" sure had its groupies.
Sometimes, I wish I was a hardcore Baptist. Those old white folks sure can dance.