My earliest memory of church begins with Mrs. Matthews. She was an older Black woman who only wore updos and who, no matter where we were, always tuned the radio in to Christian sermons. It was the early 90s and at that time, being raised by a single mother meant I often spent time with Mrs. Matthews — especially on Sundays.
When she took me along with her to church on one of those Sundays, it was a big deal. We weren’t just going to any church. We were going to the church, the “FaithDome,” one of the largest megachurches located in the heart of South-Central L.A. Of course, I didn’t know any of this at the time. All I knew was when I entered that stadium wearing one of my fanciest dresses, a sea of people surrounded me and Mrs. Matthews.
It wasn’t until I heard the pastor’s voice from the blue pulpit down below that this moment became forever lodged in my mind. It was the same voice I’d heard emanating from the radio on so many occasions. The same soulful rhythms I’d grown familiar hearing could now be seen. All around us, worshippers lifted their voices and raised their hands, moved by a spirit I couldn’t quite see but could undoubtedly feel.
That was over 20 years ago, and I’ve gathered plenty more memories of church since then. I attended both Christian and Catholic institutions, spent weekdays in Bible studies, and ate way too many animal crackers during Sunday school. I waded into oceans to witness baptism and made desert pilgrimages with my Abuelita to El Sanctuario de Chimayo, where we scooped up sacred sand into little tin cans.
Each of these experiences are part of my faith narrative, shaped by people who are important to me and who loved deeply enough to share their spiritual practices with me. Even now as I write this, I can see the tin can filled with desert sand on my coffee table. This artifact of remembrance, in all its simplicity, transcends place. In so many ways, it is a sacred reminder of a practice of spiritual healing passed down by others.
Over the years, I learned to carry each of these traditions and memories with me, making them my own and adding bits and pieces along the way. For so long, I believed church was about a building. But building churchwhere you are is about so much more than constructing walls. It’s about building a connection to others that bonds you to a purpose greater than yourself.
I’ve often felt this purpose and connection in a myriad of surprising ways.
Awhile back I met virtually with some Black women and femmes to discuss what it means to find joy. What began as a conversation for a friend’s research project turned into something else altogether. As we chatted about our experiences of pleasure and pain, the safety of our communion opened the door for a deep and honest spiritual conversation. It became a kind of church and showed me how capable I am of making church wherever I go.
When I walk through a friend’s garden to discuss everything from composting to Yoruba traditions, there’s a sense of church there.
When I gather with others along a river to barbecue or recite poetry, I create a church that nourishes and nurtures.
When I meet with others around the beginning of a new moon to learn about spiritual baths and share our intentions, I am building church.
When I find peace in the pouring of libations or in the poetics of language, I find my church.
At the heart of it all is community, that connection to others that brings me to wholeness and healing.
Everything I know about church comes from people who showed me the spiritual paths that meant something to them — that let them find sanctuary where they stood. And finding sanctuary in this world is everything.
I’ve allowed my ideas of church to evolve as I gather pieces along the spiritual journey that is mine. Because church is the place where my heart sings whole, unbounded by walls.
In what ways is your spiritual practice evolving?Leave a Comment