Students from the Ole Miss chapter of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, an interdenominational ministry of Assemblies of God USA Christian for college students, recently met in the UM Band Hall for the group’s first culture night, focusing on African American church culture.
According to Chi Alpha Campus Missionary in Training, Shadoria Anderson, the service was structured to simulate a typical Sunday service in an African American church. Anderson said the service included member positions commonly seen in African American churches.
“We are going to have a mother board, a deacon board, have ushers, testimony, but in a way that celebrates African American culture in church,” Anderson said.
She said the mother board includes the mothers of the church. They are women over 55 who have been appointed as a mother by the pastor. Their role within the church is to be an example of godly women and council younger women within the church.
Anderson said deacons have a variety of roles, ranging from visiting the sick, to promoting unity, but their role focuses on helping the pastor.
“The deacons are the right hand man of the pastor,” she said. “They focus on the day-to-day things, so that the pastor can facilitate the spread of the gospel.”
The ushers are the church’s hospitality management department. They make sure the service runs smoothly by ensuring everyone gets seated and has water, Anderson said.
Anderson said this was the first cultural event for Chi Alpha. “Being on this campus where racial tension is always prevalent, even if it is not obvious, there’s always subtle hints of racial tension,” she said. “So we never want to be the ministry that is ignorant to what is going on.”
Anderson said the group wants to celebrate all cultures, but deliberately chose to start with African American culture in honor of Black History Month. She said the service had more of a gospel feel than the contemporary worship service.
One of the Chi Alpha music directors, Austin Parker, said the songs they played differed greatly from the songs they play every other week.
“The songs we played were mostly written and performed by black artists, as compared to the predominantly white contemporary worship songs we usually do,” Parker said.
He said the main difference between contemporary and gospel music is the genres of music that influence it.
“Contemporary Christian music is more rock- and electronic-influenced with simpler song structures and fewer chord changes and lyrics,” Parker said. “Gospel, on the other hand, is more rooted in African American styles of music, borrowing heavily from R&B, soul and blues.”
Even though he had rarely played this type of worship music before, Parker said he enjoyed it. “I am used to playing and directing more modern stuff, and this was a good change of pace,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Along with different songs, Parker said the demographics of the band changed this week. “The band is usually a good mix of black and white students, but tonight, all of the band were black except for me,” he said.
The band lineup also differed. “The band was a bit different than usual,” he said. “There was no acoustic guitar player, percussionist, or saxophonist. On the bass, we had a really talented guy from Jackson come and play, and his style of playing really complimented the type of songs we were doing.”
Anderson said she was excited to see how everyone reacted to the different style of worship because it was new to many people of the ministry.
Members of Chi Alpha said they learned a lot about their peers from this event. Sophomore Kaitlin Wilkerson attended the service and said the event gave her a new appreciation for African American church culture.
“It was so different from what I’m used to, but it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had at a church service,” Wilkerson said. “They really tried to make the whole service as authentic as possible, having ushers and deacons and a motherboard. I really loved it all.”
Anderson said that this was an all inclusive event, and the main goal was to celebrate different cultures.
“This is targeted to everyone,” she said. “There’s not a specific group we are trying to reach. This is just a celebration of African American culture and how African American culture loves Christ, how we celebrate and praise Christ.”