Sunday Best and the Black church

While Black History Month is officially over, we’re really pleased to share with you our efforts over the past few weeks to get a better understanding of the rich history behind the evolution of fashion in the Black community and how it coincides with Black faith and unity. 

The story below and the captured images were inspired by the four hour-hour series from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song. This series explores the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America, the changing nature of worship spaces, and the men and women who shepherded them from the pulpit, the choir loft, and church pews. Learn more about the series and how to watch!

PATTERN would like to extend a thanks to WFYI, the local Black church community and everyone involved to help put this project together. We loved learning what the phrase “Sunday Best” means to different people, and were honored to highlight the unique voices of our very own community! We’re still collecting stories and photos, so if you have any recent, or historical photos of yourself, or family members dressed to attend church, please share those, along with the person’s name.

Read below to learn what’s at the heart of Sunday Best! – PATTERN editors

Photography by Jake Moran (Aesthetic Artist Management)

My Apostolic upbringing included love, laughter, and church. On Sunday mornings, we got up early, my mom combed my hair, and we put on some of our best clothes, which were crisply ironed by my tailor father. I recall my mother yelling out for me to be sure I “stretched out my tights” so that they would fit properly not to scuff my shiny patent leather shoes. These are regular Sunday memories, don’t let me get started on Easter… the hot comb, wide laced socks, and big bows were traditional.

My parents made sure I learned that church attire was to be my best, Sunday’s best, because that’s what we were to offer the Lord. Nowadays, I don’t get up so early to stretch out my tights and that hot comb is no more, but I still have an appreciation for wearing my Sunday’s best when going to worship the Lord, though I have learned that it doesn’t necessarily pertain to attire, but my heart’s posture in worship. 

The Author, Alecia White, in her Sunday’s Best

Everyone has their own memories and thoughts when it comes to their church experiences and I had the opportunity to speak with a few avid church goers to find out what “Sunday’s Best” means to them.

First, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rev. Dr. Leroy Wadlington, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, here in Indianapolis, Indiana. Originally from the south, Pastor Wadlington explained that traditionally, the black church was the center of the community and Sundays were the only time that they were able to dress up. 

“We didn’t go to the “honky tonk clubs”, so church was where we dressed up to go. I lived and grew up on a farm and church was our social outlet. You wore your best clothes and gave God your very best.”

If there is one thing that Pastor Wadlington wants everyone to recognize about the black church’s history, it is that it’s is ever evolving. “All those things that we hold so dear, if they are hindering someone’s worship, we need to let them go. Sometimes we have to methodically change the culture and understand that It’s not about the attire, it’s about serving and worshipping God.” 

Reverend Charlo Burrell Sr., pastor of Greater St. James Missionary Baptist Church is an Indianapolis native. Pastor Burrell’s take on Sunday’s Best has nothing to do with attire but getting the best out of the service. “I think we stigmatize Sunday’s Best. Many times, people don’t come to church because they may not have what we have to wear. We get the best when we come to God seeking who He is.”

I asked Pastor Burrell to share what he wished people recognized and his response was “the willingness to serve.” He says many think the church is just a place for super holy people to go worship. “They don’t understand that the church is there to help the community and it’s on the church to get out there and let them know. Our goal is to heal on the inside out.” 

My next interviewee was singer/songwriter/producer, G. Randy Weston. Mr. Weston, originally from Asheville, NC, now resides in Indianapolis, IN and is a member of All Nations Worship Assembly, Chicago, IL. Randy has attended and served in the church throughout his life. In fact, he credits much of his first musical exposure to the church. 

When asked what Sunday’s Best means to him, Randy responded, “It’s a mindset for the day we set aside to worship God corporately and present Him our best everything, inside and out.” Sunday’s Best also relates to his reasoning for attending church. “I go to church to corporately and publicly share my affection and gratitude to God.”

With the rich history of the black church at the forefront, I also asked Mr. Weston to share something that he wished people recognized about the black church and he replied, “How it unified us more than divided us.” The black church was always one of the pillars that brought blacks together. “It’s so weird because it is one of the biggest dividers of us now.” 

Sariah Borom, a Creative Fellow for Pattern Magazine was also raised going to church. “I remember getting dressed for church in the frilly dresses, tights, and patent leather shoes. When I think Sunday’s Best, I kind of just think of back in the day, people got to dress up and come together as a community. I think dresses, big church hats, and suits.”

With the many different reasons to attend church, Sariah says, “I go to church because church is great community. My favorite part is during praise and worship and hearing the word broken down to get a different perspective.” All these reasons are part of her historical take on the black church. “I want people to recognize that it was way more than what you see on the surface. More than big hats and patent leather shoes. It was always for black people to come together and share their love for God.”

Sunday’s Best, no matter the generation or the church, jeans or a suit, gym shoes or patent leather, has always been about offering the best we have to God. 

Akilah Darden & The Darden Family

Why is being part of the church community important to you?
I grew up in the church and the church community raised me along with my parents and molded my values.

What’s one thing about the history of Black church that you wish more people recognized?
The historic traditions and how the black church was the only safe place to go and convene during slavery times and Jim Crow. There is so much history in the Black church. Many talented musicians, singers, leaders, and oratorical speakers got their start in the black church.

What does the phrase “Sunday Best” make you think of?
Saturday night getting your hair pressed with the pressing comb (on the stove) holding your ear so you won’t get burned in preparation for Sunday morning dressed to the nine and occasionally wearing hats and gloves.

Shawnna & Sunday Ajeigbe

What is your fondest childhood memory of attending church?
The elder members of the church. If you didn’t have grandparents, they helped to fill that role. They always looked out for us and gave us candy.

What’s one thing about the history of Black church that you wish more people recognized?
The strong sense of culture and faith. The role the church, especially the black church has played in history. It was our safe haven, our home away from home where we could be ourselves. It was not merely a place of worship, it was an experience.

What does the phrase “Sunday Best” make you think of?
Dressing up and wearing your best clothing.

Stacia & Allen Gray

Why is being part of the church community important to you?
It is important to be a part of church because, the church is the crucial and main part of our belief system. It gives us our daily drive and it is the very reason we live the way we do. We serve and give back to our community.

When you hear ‘Sunday’s best” what does that make you think of?
When I hear Sunday’s Best, the thought of preparing for Sunday (clothes and meals) each week-end comes to mind. But of late, the former Gospel Talent Show Sunday’s Best on Sunday evenings also comes to mind .

Idalia Wilmoth

Why is being part of the church community important to you?
It is a place of refuge and healing. As a working professional, I need a sanctuary space to let go of all of the burdens I carry during the week.

What’s one thing about the history of Black church that you wish more people recognized?
I wish people would recognize that the “Black Church” is not limited to Sunday and its not limited to a physical building. The Black Church is not a space to pour out pain, but to exalt of how “We” Overcome everyday 365 days a year.

Sharon A. Justice

Why is being part of the church community important to you?
I love being a part of a group of like minded individuals who love serving God and sharing the gift with which He has blessed them with others.

When you hear ‘Sunday’s best” what does that make you think of?
I was raised in the Sunday church and we always looked forward to being dressed our best and having the best dinner. Dressing was a great part of attending church and yes we always tried to out do one another. Family dinner was the best always. Although I worship on Sabbath now the dressing and dinner is still a “best” part of my life.

Randy Weston

When you hear ‘Sunday’s best” what does that make you think of?
Sunday’s best makes me think of presenting God our best everything, inside and out.

What’s one thing about the history of Black church that you wish more people recognized?
I wish more people recognized how the Black church unified us more than divided us.

Ivory Steward & Robbia Keglar

What is your fondest childhood memory of attending church?
My mother was the choir directer and the first time she let me lead a song is still one of my favorite memories, seeing all the smiling faces while I sang.

Why is being part of the church community important to you?
It is my heritage, it is my faith, and tradition. My mother was the church choir director and we don’t feel right unless we are seated and singing in the choir stand.

What does the phrase “Sunday Best” make you think of?
I think of dressed up women in their Sunday hats.

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