Following my graduation from undergrad I took a year off to get my life together. I used this time to research graduate programs and pray. I read some good books and devoted myself to reflecting over my life and beliefs and doing some deep introspection to understand why I hold certain beliefs. This break allowed me to get back to me and figure out what I want and where I’m trying to go. I spent more time in prayer during that time than ever before in my life because prior to that time I didn’t feel like I knew how to pray. This interim changed me in several ways, but mostly spiritually.
I’ve vaguely mentioned my Southern Baptist upbringing in a previous article as a comparison to my NYC church experience. But I didn’t reveal many details or its effect on me. In my childhood, I occasionally attended a small Baptist church not far from my home. Most of the members were my relatives and my father took pride in his father’s pioneering contributions. Even as a young child I felt a void, like there was something missing. Most of the sermons involved the pastor criticizing the congregation and detailing everything we did wrong to show how busy the devil is.
I visited a couple of different churches, each with its own flavor but none with women as leaders. I continued visiting various churches hoping I would find the proper way to pray and learn all the hymns required of a true Christian. The older I got the more I realized how repressive and exclusionary these church practices were. Only select people were allowed to pray or truly connect with God. The reoccurring theme of “favor” in many of the Churches doctrines implies that only certain, privileged, people have access to God and deserve a good life. As I learned about different religions I noticed these teachings similarities to the caste system in Hinduism.
As I lived and experienced life more I grew weary and uncomfortable with these teachings. I started seeking more progressive Churches and teachers who wanted to help people cultivate a personal and loving relationship with God. This vision was expanded after I took a philosophy of religion course and learned about the varying approaches and doctrines related to Christianity. This course sparked many questions, such as Why is there suffering and evil in the world? I started searching for people who could help me understand Christianity with these questions in mind. I found a few places that initially seemed promising, but after a while I realized they weren’t the right fit for me. My year off helped me put things in perspective.
As I explored my academic options I also started investing time into developing a vision of what I wanted in my personal life. I spent just as much time planning the life I hoped for in a new city as I did my academic and career goals. I prayed continuously asking God to lead me to a supportive community of people seeking to critically engage the Bible and scripture in order to better apply it to life and share unconditional love. When I moved to the city I visited a few churches with friends, but I still hadn’t found the one. Then I visited FCBC and I knew I was home. Pastor Mike encourages members to ask questions and provides a framework for understanding the Bible.
He reminds us that the writers were human too, and sometimes had their own agendas. Pointing to scriptures such as Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestles God, and prevails, reminds us of our strength, challenges many common notions of humanity in relation to God, and encourages us to critically engage the work and place the text in its historical context. I can’t say that all of my questions have been answered or that this is the final stop of my journey, but every time I visit and feel the love in the building I know we can have anything we ask for. Back home in Louisiana hopping from Church to Church I was feeling lost and hopeless. My worship experience felt so empty and unfulfilling. I prayed for a better worship experience and God answered.
FCBC let me know that I don’t have to feel bad for asking questions, and that we are a human family. Pastor Mike advocates for gender equality and more women in church leadership roles. That alone was everything for me because I was struggling with my newfound feminism and the sexist teachings in my area churches. FCBC works to make each person aware of their own greatness and that they deserve love and respect. As I mentioned in my previous article, there are some things I would like to see changed, but for now I have found refuge in FCBC. Do you have similar concerns or a spiritual experience you would like to share? Please comment, I love learning about others journey. If you would like to learn more about Pastor Mike or hear one of his sermons check out the link below.
Peace, Love, Blessings, and Joy