Easter in the South means big hats, pastel pantsuits, and Sunday services packed full of CME Christians (for you CME Christians and heathens: that’s Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter attendees.) I have never been a CME Christian myself—I grew up going to church on Tuesday nights, Thursday nights, and twice on Sundays for three hour long services where I was expected to wear pantyhose and not fall asleep. I went to church every Sunday I was home, even when I was sick, because according to my mother, the best heart fixer and mind regulator is the One who you don’t have to make an appointment with. Even when I went to boarding school, I went to church about every other week, but now that I go to school out of state, I rarely go at all. I have become the CME Christian the girls I went to Sunday School with used to side eye during service, and it bothers me more than I realized it would.
There’s, of course, a religious aspect to this that’s more personal, but going to church as much as part of my identity as a Southern black woman as my love for biscuits and my hatred of old Northerners who buy beachfront property. A huge part of what defines Southernness to me is the way a church provides both a religious connection and a whole community—my church gave me a second family, another language, and a different realm to live in. Up here in Central Ohio, churches, both black and white, are just fine, but they aren’t family the way mine church is, and it can be difficult to battle church-homesickness.
Still, there is a balm in Gilead (and Gambier) for missing out on the elements of church that make it worth putting on pantyhose. Finding a balance that works for you is gonna be a process--it’s taken me til the tail end of my sophomore year, so I’m no expert. But here are some of the ways I stay connected past Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter:
Let’s start out with the obvious. If church is what you’re missing, you can always crack open your bible (or your bible app). But you don’t have to do it alone. Joining a bible study can be a great way to not only get some scripture in your life (and learn some bible quotes that are perfect for adding shade and salvation into your vocabulary), but also a way to emulate the community that a church home provides. Sure, you might have to do some shopping around for a good fit—just as everyone’s relationship with God is different, everyone’s definition of a Bible study can differ too. I visited several different bible studies while here on campus, and while some weren’t my thing (drinking communion wine out the same glass? Absolutely not), trial and error helped me find a group that was the right mix of casual and actually Christlike. Shopping around really helped me figure out what I thought was important when it came to having a relationship with God, so don’t be afraid to try out a group—you might actually learn something.
If Scripture Lite is more your style (I’m looking at you, Grace Greenleaf (link to Gabby’s piece)) then you can always join your local gospel choir. Choirs have always stressed me out because they’re the worst group projects in all of history--every alto on the choir thinks she’s Shirley Caesar, there’s never enough tenors to balance out the ten thousand sopranos, and absolutely no one knows the lyrics to the song y’all have sung before altar call for the last twenty years. Still, having a set time to surround myself with gospel music always brings fond memories of attending women’s choir rehearsals with my mother or being in the youth choir myself. Gospel choirs can also vary in style and secular-ness, and have really been a great way of bringing the peace only an tenor’s solo can bring back into your life. I joined my college’s gospel choir last year, and though we aren’t gonna be on Sunday’s Best anytime soon, it’s been great to be able to replicate the feelings (both positive and negative) being on one accord with a song on your heart can bring. Plus, how else are you gonna keep track of the new Tye Tribbett singles your cousins are gonna be playing at the youth revival this summer?
Incorporating Aspects into Your Life
If group worship isn’t really your style and you don’t have the patience to deal with choir directors who think they’re Kirk Franklin, you can always incorporate little solo churchy activities into your day. I feel close to my mama (and my ancestors) every time I turn on a gospel playlist while doing laundry or cleaning my room (Check out Gabby's Spotify one, aptly titled “won’t He make you clean”). I’ve downloaded a verse a day app. I start my day on a holy note by setting my alarm clock to the little girl saying “we don’t want no devils in the house” from Ultralight Beam. I got conned into watching Greenleaf. You can always download a novel set in a church or a TD Jakes audiobook (or not, let’s be real). Fill your life with little church adjacent elements that can help remind you of what it’s like to be surrounded by people who are always busy on Sunday mornings, and before long, you’ll be tuning into your home church’s livestream.
Make Your Sundays Special for You
In a similar vein, one of the most successful ways to assuage my fear that I have truly become a CME Christian is to make sure Sunday is still one of the highlights of my week. Sundays are my wash days during the school year, and I always look forward to waking up in the morning and listen to my gospel playlist while detangling (we all need Jesus when you find a knot in your hair). Afterward, I go to my gospel choir rehearsal. I make sure I have one meal or snack that really makes me happy, since I can’t rely on the 2 o’clock dinners that give me the itis from my school cafeteria. I go to my BSU meetings, and in general, make sure to prioritize activities and events that bring me peace, joy, and allow me to emulate some of my favorite parts of a Sunday afternoon (like the nap I have in between services).
There’s nothing like being in a three to four hour service with the people who you love, but being a CME college student doesn’t mean you have to be in a completely backslidden condition. Not that that’s going to keep the church mothers from dogging you, but some things never change. Tell us about your CME habits down below!