How to Speak Like a Baptist

Two of my point of view characters are siblings Phoebe and Malcolm. Their dad, Irving, has (non-practicing) Jewish parents. Their mom, Pam, is Baptist. Pam is black and grew up in Houston, with family roots also in Galveston, Texas.

Pam was born in 1959 and attended church in Houston until going away to college in Arizona in 1977. After marrying Irv in 1980, she moved with him to his hometown of Barberry Lake, Arizona. She still visits her family in Houston but most of her churchgoing is now in Phoenix, a 2 hour drive from Barberry Lake. Phoebe usually joins her for the drive down every couple of weeks and Malcolm sometimes does.

For my post consolidating researching on Black Baptist churches, please see: Baptist Church Life: Houston and Beyond.

I wrote a scene where Phoebe asks her mom for religious advice for her cousin Ruth, who is visiting. All four of Ruth’s grandparents (including the two she shares with Phoebe) are Jews who came to Barberry Lake as children via the Kindertransport.

The dialogue in the scene looked fine to me and to my husband, both of us Jews. But when I shared it with Christians in my critique group and elsewhere, they were very clear that it was off (which was the nice way of putting it). Okay then.

All novels are going to have situations the author isn’t an expert in. If you care about getting it right, you have to research. And when you have characters who have radically different life experiences from you, you need not just research but sensitivity readers.

I’ve got the latter lined up but I first need to rewrite that early chapter. I also need to know how Phoebe and Malcolm are going to pray or talk about religion, and about the spiritual stuff they experience during the Exodus so I can write other scenes.

I found two services online and watched them to get a flavor for Black Baptist worship. The style is very different from what I’m used to. Judaism is liturgical, meaning we follow a set structure with specific prayers and events. Some Jewish services are near identical to each other and some bring in so many new things that you only see the structure if you’re looking for it. My Reconstructionist synagogue is somewhere in-between.

Baptist services, on the other hand, are not at all liturgical. They center around a pastor’s sermon, where the congregation may interject with support. The ones I watched have lay people giving testimony before the pastor comes on. And they may start and/or end with singing.

A congregation sings God’s praises at the Freewell Missonary Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Carol M. Highsmith, 2010

I turned to the internet to find services and watched two:

Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Beaumont, TX
8am Worship Service, March 2020

Online service during the pandemic, so no one is attending in person.  A worship couple opening up then 40+ mins of the pastor talking.  No singing or prayer.  When the pastor is finished speaking, he sings.  Then there is an alter call.  Finally a TV show talk about the online services.

Language used includes:
Thank you Lord Jesus
Lord (saying Lord over and over, interspersed with Lord Jesus)
Praise your name
Touch them in a mighty way Lord Jesus
I surrender to you Lord Jesus
I want to call on you right now Lord Jesus
Almighty God
What must I do to be saved?

– So that the doors of the Lord’s blessing remain open and so the windows of heaven are aimed my direction.
– We bow this morning because you are the only God in the world to bow to. No one greater than you.  We bow and say thank you for all you have provided. In Christ’s name, in name Jesus, we pray.
– Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
– The good news of a redemptive magnificent loving savior.
– Even though they have failed at being faithful, God is still faithful with them.

Prayers include Morning Blessings and Matthew 28:16-20. Using the King James Bible.

Another one was older.

Zion Hill Baptist Church, Rodeo, CA
Part One of Sunday Service 2/16/2014

Filmed service with a small congregation. Very long stretch of pastor up there talking.  Pastor sings some at the end.

Members shout out after every line. And stand up and applaud after each speaker.
Oh yeah!
Come on Pastor!

References include: The “5 books of Mosaic law,” followed by “those historical books.” Nehemiah 4:6 and Matthew 16:18.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *