Have you noticed that people don’t ‘shout’ in church like they used to? Remember when people used to ‘get happy’? I have very fond memories of my grandmother and all the older ladies in the church (and when I say older, I mean 50 or so) doing their dance almost every Sunday. I remember Aunt Flossie in particular. Aunt Flossie used to get the church crunk every Sunday with her own uncontainable exuberant dances that included heavy foot stumping and rhythmic clapping. For us children, that entertainment was reason enough to go to church.
Getting happy came in many forms… from jubilant dances in the aisles to pew-rocking jerks will sitting down. From audible cries with flailing hands to silent tears being wept in as a young mother swayed from side to side. I remember witnessing my mother dabbing her eyes with a tissue many a Sunday morning. One Sunday, I asked her why she cried. All she said was, “You will know when you get older.” She was right.
I remember church revivals being an electric time of the year. Where I grew up, young people were expected to ‘go down and get their religion’. For those of you who do not understand that old time Southern Baptist vernacular, ‘going down to get your religion’ was a very important time in a young person’s life. It figuratively meant you were old enough to recognize the importance of religion and God. It meant you were ready to proclaim yourself a Christian; ready to submit to the Lord. It literally meant going down to the altar. While on your knees, you prayed for forgiveness and invited, asked, begged the Lord into your heart and life. You asked the Lord to save your soul.
At my church, this happened usually during the annual revival while a crowd of other saved people gathered around you, praying and singing… kind of encouraging the Holy Spirit to come into you. And if he came, that was usually demonstrated by a jubilant dance, called shouting or ‘catching the Holy Ghost’.
I was 13 years old when that happened for me. I remember when my best friend, Erica Dewitt, and I decided that it was time for us to ‘go down’. And I prayed, confess, cried and invited the Lord into my life. And he came. It was quite a spectacle to behold.
My grandfather was the only person there to witness my getting my religion. I didn’t tell any of my family that I was doing it. I remember when my cousin Michael Lee went down; he told everybody! I can recall when he announced decisively and confidently to my aunt Vanessa, “Van, I’m going down tonight!” “Really, Mike!” She congratulated him with pride and satisfaction because he had officially come of age; he was old enough to make the decision for himself that he wanted to be a Christian.
I said all that to say this: Where is that good old-time religion? What happened to that good feeling of joy and gratefulness that lead you to momentarily leave yours senses and allow a higher spirit to control you to the point of dancing unabashedly?
When has the last time you heard a child outside of your household proclaim they are going down to the altar tonight, or going to join the church? It’s probably been a while. Do you even have a relationship with a child outside of your own in which they would share such with you?
A lot has changed in the modern church. Instead of driving a few minutes to church, now we drive 20 to 40 minutes because we don’t live in the same community in which we go to church. When we look around the church, we see familiar faces but we don’t know the names. And when church is over, we go home. There’s no more gathering around the front steps fellowshipping. Now we get in our fancy cars and go to Lizard’s Thicket for breakfast for fear of looking like gossips. Remember when there is an event at the church and the entire community came out? Now, mostly members come. The church used to be the center of our community. Do we even have a community anymore?
So, what’s the point of this week’s column? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t one. I guess I’m just longing for the good old days. Thank you for strolling down memory lane with me.