A few days ago, my frat brother and I went to a dinner party hosted by one of his friends. He knew I would only be in town for the weekend and figured that this would be the best opportunity for me to finally meet the people who I have heard so much about. I am always a bit concerned about meeting new people because I don’t always make the best of first impressions. My introversion often makes me come across as fearful, arrogant, aloof, unfriendly, conceited, or just about any other negative attribute associated with the kind of person that most people would avoid at a party. (Yeah it’s like that. It gets annoying that people always think the worst of those of us who don’t feel the need for a lot of meaningless, insincere small talk.)
We ended up getting to the party about 30 minutes late, but still early (because everyone at the party was Black and as a people, we tend to have serious issues with time management). After a few brief introductions, the host of the event let us all know that the food was ready. When we headed to the kitchen with our plates, the host asked my frat brother to bless the food because she knew that he was very active in his church. At that point, I should have expected what would happen next.
“Actually, we have a pastor among us,” he replied, “My friend Spencer is a pastor.”
I was still making my way into the kitchen, but I could tell that the mood had changed a bit.
“You brought a pastor to this?” the host asked in a tone of voice that simultaneously expressed amusement and concern.
“You don’t have to worry about anything,” my frat brother replied, “He’s seen worse. We went to Vegas.”
“Oh,” another guest interjected, “He’s the one who went to Vegas with you.”
I somehow managed to cut through the conversation with my brief prayer so that we could finally eat. Still, for the rest of the night, it was clear that a few of the guests were concerned about a minister being in their presence. I was a bit thrown off at first considering that the guest list primarily consisted of young professionals. (Most of us in attendance either had PhDs or were in the process of pursuing PhDs.) The implication was that I would go out of my way to judge their behavior. I tried my best to ease their concerns, but I knew that my “trademark introvert tendencies” were not going to make things any better.
As I sat at the dinner party (that eventually shifted to a house party), God helped me to understand what had actually occurred. I wasn’t the real issue. Through observing the many conversations, it became clear to me that in addition to being young professionals dedicated to uplifting their communities through their educational pursuits, most of the guests attending this party were also people of faith. Many of them were very active members of their churches.
The real issue was that as people of faith and young professionals, everyone in attendance had reputations to uphold. (I ended up overhearing an interesting conversation the next day about their negative feelings toward one guest who takes photos at these parties and then posts them on Facebook without warning.) While there was nothing going on at the party that would be unexpected for parties of people within our age group (mainly drinking and suggestive dancing), most of the guests were nonetheless concerned about their ability to act their age and live up to the high expectations of their communities.
The guests of the party were finding themselves in a situation very similar to my personal quandary that led to the founding of this blog. It is very difficult to find the balance between what is legal, what is moral, and what is appropriate, but role models are expected to do so on a regular basis. At least at events like this, most of the guests normally felt comfortable enough to let loose. Unfortunately, the addition of a minister to the mix made them become even more concerned about the ramifications of their actions because of the respect that they have for their respective pastors.
In the end, I survived the party. It was quite an experience. I met a lot of good people and learned a great deal about myself in the process (that I will probably write about at some point in the future). My biggest lesson from the whole experience was that the problems I face as a minister exist in some form for all professionals–especially in the African American community where pursuing higher education is still not quite the norm. I just happen to have a greater portion of those issues due to my role in ministry.