Ya Scared? Go to Church - Chronicling Compton - Thursday, Feb 5, 2014

 Yes, I'm supposed to update on Wednesday, yesterday but I was busy so today will have to do.

I didn't really do or find much "reportable" news, other than go to church and watch the Super Bowl.

Welcome to Black History Month.

Said the priest saying mass at St. Albert's on Sunday at 9 AM.

Having been to my share of Catholic churches with diverse demographics, I can't say I've ever quite seen anything like what I've been seeing in Compton.

But first, the Bits and Pieces: 
An Outsider's Description of the Catholic Church in Compton

I haven't been much of a church person in my adult life. 

However, that all changed with my fiance, and I go regularly with her.  My beliefs are still my beliefs however, if you know me well enough.

We went/still go to her church in the South Bay, which is the antithesis to the Catholic church that I grew up in Los Feliz, a decidedly "modern" church. 

At her church in the South Bay, they speak Latin in some masses, highly formal, marble everything, highly ornate fixtures.  The people are dressed up as if everyone is getting ready for a job interview, though I do see a few people "straying" from the herd.

When we can't make it to her church, we opt for Compton's Catholic Church, and have been doing so for a few months either at 7:30 AM in the morning or 9:00 AM.  She has likened the experience of going there as similar to the experience of going to church in New Orleans 7th Ward district --- tons of black folk --- these people are usually NOT the face of Catholicism.

Ever since I was a kid, the face of Catholicism was either, usually white, Filipino, or Latino be it at my church/school or other churches around Glendale/Eagle Rock/Los Feliz.  Sure I saw black folk every once in a while, but there was never really a community of them.

Welp, that has officially changed.  Now I'm in a community of mostly black and Latino folk.

A few observations:

1)  SINGING.  All in caps.  SINGING.  This time with an exclamation point.  SINGING!

I hate to be writing the same damn script and stereotypes that has played out in our movies, TV shows, but the singing even in the dead of morning at 7:30AM is something else, even though it's usually just one little old lady is really really good.

9:00AM even better.  Like I feel I should be paying to see them in concert or something. This past week they brought in a choir, where almost each and every hymn had the congregation clapping.

It appears that whatever choir they bring in is rotating.  One week a parents' choir.  The next week some people that look like the choirs from black churches whenever they are shown in a movie.

One time they brought in a choir that sang "How Great Is Our God" --- a song I didn't really care a lot for, but they made that into a song that I actually stayed the entire mass for till they finished their last crescendo.

2)  The Sign of Peace is a time for A LOT of handshaking. 

The ushers will shake everyone's hand in the 7:30AM mass, and attempt their darndest in the fuller congregation at 9:00AM. 

With the fuller congregation at 9:00AM, all you hear for a good 3-5 minutes is exchanges of peace, and people throwing up peace signs to anyone who will look in their direction. 

Yeah, take that, gangsta ass image of Compton.

3)  The layfolk at the mics, control the flow of the mass, not the Priest.

They make announcements about anything, and dictate the etiquette during certain rituals by spelling out what it is they need to do.

One time, the leader of the parents' choir had his 3 or 4-year old son sing "Hosanna in the Highest", which is usually a "chant"

4)  A focus on racial and social justice? 

A handful of people for black History month were wearing traditional African garb.  A few were wearing t-shirts about knowing their roots.

For last Sunday's mass, the church's altar had been adorned with large banners of figures in African clothing with the words Umoja (unity) and Imani (faith) laid out vertically on the banners.

At my fiance's church, before the current Pope Francis, I felt there was a lot of political-speak that I'd never remember hearing at any church I'd attended.  Maybe I wasn't "awake" to notice, but that church made no effort to hide its conservative politics;  it's specialty was combating and protesting abortion clinics (if you must know where I stand, I stand where my AP US History Teacher stands, "I don't know because I'll never have to get one").

However, hearing the priest this Sunday speak, it sounded downright revolutionary.  He brought up a list of saints that are actually black.  He'd also brought up the history of segregation within the church, something that I feel would be ignored by the priests in that South Bay church.  All of this was justification for why they needed to celebrate and acknowledge black history at the church.

Meeting Auntie and her Neighborhood

Don't shit where you eat.

Nearing the end of mass, one of the parishioners mentioned that they were serving breakfast...FREE.

FREE is almost always the best price, specially for those of us who are non-monetarily endowed.

We go to the breakfast at the parish hall that doubles as a basketball court. A handful of tables, about 15-20, seating about 8. 

The food is covered in metal trays, but there is coffee and juice.  Coffee helpful on this gloomy Southern California chilly February Sunday.  There is also bake sale that we didn't have any cash for.

We do not know anyone in particular and don't know where to sit, so we happen across a table that is initially empty.  We claim it.  I notice that she's cold however, and offer to walk and get her some coffee.

The line for coffee takes about 5 minutes to get through, but I make it, and make my way back, to see that the table where she was sitting was now shared with an elder black woman, a middle aged black man, and some other middle aged-elder black woman.

The elder black woman calls out everyone she sees and knows.  Her name, I'd like to think of her as auntie-like, so I will refer to her as Auntie.

My fiance makes small talk with her in between her call-outs.  She talks about her good time at the casino in "Mission Vieja."  I hear her call someone out and asks him about his wife.  His wife has been sick.

Eventually after all Auntie's made her call-outs and a long line begins to form for breakfast, we get on to talking about our lives.  How were new to the parish.  How we came from that church in the South Bay. How I came from the valley.  How I'm still a student.

We learned about their lives as well.  How Auntie raised children in this neighborhood.  How they made it despite being so poor.  How they moved away except for one.  How when the middle-aged elder woman tried to moved to South LA, she had a string of bad luck --- Compton was really the place for her.  How Compton was really nice.  How all the problems were not because of the people within Compton, but from people who lived outside.  They didn't want to make a mess where they lived, so they would do their dirty in Compton.

A rousing 3 hours of conversation that I'm barely capturing the essence of.

My fiance and I would later bike back home, our food satiating.  A few hours later we would make our way out to Long Beach via the 91 freeway. 

On the way there on Central Ave., my fiance sees Auntie, out and about.

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