I am sitting in an affluent white church which, quite frankly, smells like old money. A middle-aged white woman walks down the aisle like a bride at a wedding and stands near the row I’m sitting in and asks if anyone is sitting next to me. (The entire row is empty.) In answer, I stand and exit so she can enter. She sits on the narrow wooden pew. I retake my seat and she’s sitting barely one seat over from me. She introduces herself, and I wonder if this was a New York City train and the seat next to me was vacant if she would have sat there. I in turn introduce myself, and we both share what brings us to the church this day. She is a member of the church. My friend is celebrating her Jubilee, 25 years of mission work. I met her nearly 15 years ago, at another affluent white church, where she was the Director of Mission. Not from money herself, she has found herself working in affluent white churches, leading their various missions. I know her struggles dealing with the privileged, and I admire how she pushes an agenda that makes many members of these rich churches uncomfortable. Her agenda is simply moving people towards what it means to be Christian, right out of the Gospel According to Matthew. I also think about a homily I once gave at an affluent white church on the Upper East Side, and since it was a lectionary church, I didn’t get to pick my text. I got stuck with the text, The Temptation of Jesus Story. I say this to say, like my friend, I will do and say things that might make the privileged feel uncomfortable. In my homily, on Mission Sunday, I told the folk that mission, that pursuing a particular course of action, will take you places you might not otherwise go, and since I knew my audience, I quipped, “like Brooklyn,” which garnered some snickers.
Back in the pew. The middle-aged white woman sitting next to me notices that on a small blackboard to our left near the altar three hymns are listed. She muses if the congregation is going to sing. I quickly grab the hymn book and look up the hymns: “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty:”; “Morning Has Broken”; and “O Day of Peace.” She looks intensely at me, as if she can see my soul, and says, “I bet you can sing!” I say, “I didn’t get the singing gene.” She didn’t turn to salt, or ice; she seemed to take it in stride. I’m assuming it didn’t go over her head. I add, “I bet you can sing!” She shares with me that she is in the choir.
As it turns out, we didn’t have to sing, or dance, so I tell this story.