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Overcomer. 3 Things My Grandmother Taught Me About Social Distancing.

"I am the church!" My 80-something year old grandmother has been telling me this for decades. At one time a regular church attendee, Deaconess and guest speaker at many different small Black Churches, she was the first woman I had ever seen...preach. I remember visiting her as a child and seeing her lead youth ministry in her "good" living room, not the sitting room with the plastic covers over the white tufted dense couches, the living room the one we were allowed to enter. I was just a little thing gawking reverently at all of the big kids and teens listening to her teach them once per week. I never thought much of the progressiveness of it then, really I was too young to grasp her sidestepping of patriarchy, but also, it didn’t seem odd to me because it was not separate from her nature. Her nature was to talk about God, pray and quote scripture. It was as normative as cooking a dinner big enough for 20 people 5 days a week, talking on the phone, wearing her blonde wigs and 5 inch heels to church. Oh yeah, you heard right grandma was not playing games back in the day. She still don’t play no games. I would watch her get dressed for church as if she were getting dressed for a fashion show, heels, makeup, wig, suit and coordinating hat every.single.week. The slayage was epic and she wasn’t shy or awkward with it. A peacock wears its feathers all the time so no need to be bashful just because someone else finally notices them.

“Deaconess Mary”, “Sister Mary” or “Mother May” were her royal titles, and are still bequeathed to her today.

She was in her 50's when her ministry began to really peak and the first time I would witness her speak in public at women's conference. Gainesville, Florida was slathered all over her pronunciation, but she could quote scripture like rap lyrics and pray confidently as if Jesus was physically standing next to her holding her hand whispering “Amen Mary”.Decades later, she stopped going to church every Sunday and then almost altogether for some time after my grandfather passed. “ Hey Grandma, how was church today?” we would ask on a Sunday call. “I am the church!”, she would reply. The reason behind her lapse in attendance was partially due to my grandfather's sudden passing. He was a quiet steady force in their home. That steadiness, the routine was gone after he passed, and she needed to find her footing again. I knew that getting dressed up on Sunday for church was not the same for her without my grandfather, “Deacon May”.

What I would come to realize later, but what she knew full well back then, was that the Church is a moving, living, breathing organism that spans across the globe and through generations in people, not a building.

The Building is obsolete during social distancing. The parking lot and coffee stands are not necessary.

I asked her what she has been doing since church is “Closed” this past month and she said “Well, I have 6 prayer lines going on with different women.”

I I can’t even get one prayer text from anyone right now...

She reads her Bible at home, watches her Christian shows and talks to her friends on the phone, about life, and family which eventually leads to more prayer I’m sure.

She’s by herself at home, widowed and is still grieving the recent loss of the dog she was given to help get through my grandfather's passing years ago. Still sharp, sill sassy and still slaying at 83. Still praying. Still preaching. Not completely tone deaf to reality, no Black grandmother is, but she and her friends have helped me realize something.

  1. My grandmother knows that solitude is not loneliness. It gets a bad rap honestly, but having only oneself for company can provide you with a unique opportunity for introspection. Time to build some companionship with yourself again and work on Spiritual depth. My grandmother happens to be secure in her Christian identity and fully functions in it. The older she gets the more confident she becomes in her individual identity and purpose, and because of that she is able to reach people and speak into their lives from miles away. That confidence comes with spending time in solitude without the distraction of trying to be someone for something on a regular basis.

  2. She understands suffering. If you think about it, social distancing is a form of segregation. Though it is very necessary at this point in time, and not racialized, our elders remember when it was. They knew what it was like to not be able to touch a water fountain or restaurant counter because of “social distancing”. Church bombings, house bombings, lynchings, voting rights, racial segregation, a 2nd World War, Black elders have survived and experienced the realization of hope materialize in their lifetime.

3. She understands that the church operates outside brick and mortar walls. Yes, she is the church . Black churches have been operating outside the walls of the historical Evangelical American church for a long time. Racial disparities and racism have influenced the Christian church for centuries. Black ways of speaking, worshipping, and celebrating have never been an identity of the Evangelical church in America, and are always squelched through integration in the name of Colorblind unity. If any one generation demonstrated for us how to pray, and pivot at the same time it was our Black elders. Their faith and resilience during slavery and the civil rights movement was a foreshadow to me of what reimagining, believing and seeking wisdom can do for a generation.

My grandmother is a believer who carries the message of Christ within her Black body wherever she goes, whether that’s into a brick and mortar church service, her kitchen ( God is definitely in her kitchen yasss!), or over the phone when she is praying with her friends on her prayer line. I’m sure she never imagined that in her 80’s she would see what we are seeing in 2020, but she’s thriving. Her faith is older than her age. It brings her through the moments of solitude, the pain of suffering and into the practice of shifting.

Solitude, Suffering, Shifting…

Solitude, Suffering, Shifting…

The formula for Overcoming.


What are you learning from your elders during this time of social distancing?

What role has the church "service" played in shaping our view of, or in maybe distancing us from solitude, from suffering?

How much of overcoming is suffering?

What have felt lead to shift away from...towards during this time in your life?

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