Today I went to a black church.

No, I didn’t have an agenda. It wasn’t for work. There wasn’t a rally to attend or any special invitation (other than the one from my friend Rene who’d been praying for the African American community and felt told to go). I went to listen and pray alongside brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be darker than me. I went to learn.

Today I went to a black church.

It was in an area of town I rarely go. The building itself told a story – it’s been there for many years. An old iconic cross with “First AME” adhered to the red brick building’s corner showed us we were in the right place. We parked and started walking toward the doors. Before we even made it to the steps, a black man wearing a white v-neck shirt quickly walked toward us. He shook out his hand in a brotherly welcome and smiled wide. He made sure we knew how to find the entrance.

“Welcome, welcome!” he said. He was the first of many who would utter those words.

Today I went to a black church.

It was different than most of the churches I’ve attended. The building itself showed age. Cracks in the walls and slipped tiles on the floor were signs that if the building could talk, it’d have decades of stories to tell. Nothing was fancy on the inside other than some of the church members’ beautiful dresses. Gold chandeliers hanging from the tall sanctuary ceiling lit up the room, despite many of the burned out bulbs. Red velvet-like fabric made the creaky pews comfortable. It matched a red banner rejoicing in the over 175 years of worshiping together on the wall. The banner was above a painting of Jesus ministering to others. It struck me that there were so many white faces in the artwork.

Today I went to a black church.

I accidentally crashed a Sunday School class right when we arrived, but got to see little kids learning the story of Moses. I watched members trickle into the worship area and take their seats. I got to see service kick off not with announcements or a fancy video or powerpoint, but a Psalm spoken by a powerful woman of God, Rev. Rochelle. She drew everyone into worship through a song most of us knew, Break Every Chain.

Let us lift up our weapon of praise,” she said. “Hallelujah Jesus!”

Her passion and zeal set the tone for what was to come. The FAME Sanctuary Choir raised joyful voices as two teenage boys accompanied them with gentle beats on the drum set and strums of an electric guitar. An organ also piped in throughout the morning. Music flooded in and out of the entire hour-and-a-half long service. That, as well as verbal agreements.

Yes, Jesus. Yes. Amen. Yes.” – Talking back was encouraged.

Today I went to a black church.

I stood up when we read the word of God. I kneeled at the altar with everyone else and prayed. I listened to a wise female, Rev. Juli, deliver a powerful sermon about the prodigal son and knowing our “moment” when our eyes are opened. I felt and observed the deep love of Pastor Barry, a humble and kind man who led the congregation. His words still echo with me tonight:

Everything we do should be birthed out of prayer. We can march all of the marches we want, but if they’re not coming out of prayer, they’re just exercise.

Today I went to a black church.

Of course, I had to use the bathroom. Kind women knew the “I’ve gotta go” look on my face and without me even asking, showed me where to go. As I closed and locked the door behind me, generational shame flooded my heart.

They had no hesitation letting me use their toilet.

I broke inside knowing that my ancestors most likely did not offer the same reaction to their ancestors when they had to go. I repented for my family, and for the community that still holds such deep and evil grudges.

And then, I thought about colon cancer. Because I can’t not think about colon cancer. And I was grieved that it impacts people like me. And statistically, a lot of people in the AME church. Jesus and cancer, those two things bring us together.

Today I went to a black church.

I didn’t go to make a statement or as some type of sociology project. I didn’t go because it would be good for my biracial daughter – although I’m very grateful for the experience.

(She needs to start learning why her skin is darker than most others around us.)

I didn’t go because #BlackLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter. I went because of Jesus, because He’s who gets the worship and praise on Sunday mornings. I went because I know God doesn’t care about our skin color when we worship Him, but sometimes it’s not enough to know something. You’ve got to feel it too.

Today I went to a black church.

In complete honesty, a streak of fear ran through me when I saw the AME sign and walked through the door. Recent events opened my eyes to the constant threat on such a beloved community.

But as I sat and tackled my short-lived fear, I noticed there weren’t any locks or security around the doors. Just a lot of people praying and trusting in God.

I did hear about violence, but I learned it’s not a new issue or problem. I saw the pain about recent events in their eyes match mine and felt our hearts grieve together. I heard about their weapon of choice – prayer. We were all invited and encouraged to pick it up.

Today I went to a black church.

I left speechless at what I’d experienced.

I felt the spirit of God on the move and the energy and excitement around it. I heard, and stood up, to receive His word. I felt loved by so many who intentionally came over to shake my hand.

I watched a commitment to the simple Gospel override any of the struggles and pain this life (or an old building) brings. I heard and received the joy and praise of those gifted to sing from the stage. I also heard the hums of those unable to stand in the pews. They were gently swaying with eyes closed to the music. I left encouraged by Rev. Juli and her wise words,

“God can change us! We must wake up and come to our senses. We can’t change the past or the present, but we can learn from those things. We can’t miss our moment.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that we aren’t guaranteed many more.

I’m so thankful that today I went to a black church.