Sanders: Churches have a world of differences

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I received an invitation to attend services at a “white church.” I wondered about the invitation. This may be the first time in 46 years of living in Selma and 34 years of serving in the Alabama State Senate that I was specifically invited to a “white church” on a particular Sunday.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America.”

At first I did not know the name of the person inviting me. When my assistant provided the name, I understood the invitation. The person extending the invitation was the guest speaker, not the pastor or member. He regularly interacts with the Alabama Legislature. I agreed to attend before I learned who had invited me.

We were unable to obtain directions to the church from Google. My assistant called the speaker. He told her to tell me to turn left off U.S. Highway 80 just after I entered Lowndes County and the town of Benton, then take the first left and turn left again into the church.

It was all lefts. Was that an omen?  I followed the directions.  There was a church on the left, but I couldn’t see a name. I didn’t want to go into the wrong church. I was early so I watched as people arrived. At five minutes to 11 a.m., I got out of my car just as a man came out the church headed toward to his truck. He assured me that I was at the Benton Baptist Church.  When I got close, I could see Benton Baptist Church on a wall plaque.

A black church would have had a big sign in the front yard. As I entered the church, I was warmly greeted by a number of members.  One woman reminded me that she had taught my children in the Selma Schools System. The speaker greeted me warmly. The pastor also greeted me warmly, but I was the only black face in the place.

Culture is powerful. It manifests itself in all we do, including religion. I noticed the words on the church program, “Lee Tate, pastor.”  There was no “reverend” before his name. Virtually, every black pastor would have reverend before his name.

The service started right at 11 and ended around noon. Few services in black churches end in an hour.  Proportionately, there were more men than I would see in a black church even though more women were in attendance at this church.

The speaker was Dr. Joe Godfrey, executive director of ALCAP (Alabama Citizens Action Program). He regularly comes to the Alabama Legislature, most often lobbying against gambling.

We are usually on opposite sides of that issue but still respect each other. He also facilitates the weekly Legislative Prayer Breakfast when the Legislature is in session. Dr. Godfrey called me to the front of the church so he could pray for me. I went because I need all the prayers I can get.  He asked me if I wanted to make remarks. I declined. He prayed for me.

I thanked him for the prayer and thanked church members for allowing me to share the service. The sermon was very good. I left Benton Baptist Church shortly after twelve. The Cutting Edge Church was just a country block or so away. The sign with the name of the church was clearly visible from the road. It was a black church so I knew the service would not be over.

These two churches are little over a country block from each other. However, they are worlds apart in culture. One manifests “white culture” and the other manifests “black culture.” The good thing is that both worship the same God.

Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the week. We are usually reluctant about the unknown so we shy away. Few things make us more reluctant than the religion of others because religion is so personal.  However, I believe God would have us not shy away. Maybe that is one reason why eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the week in America.