Another Easter, another trip to the overflow room at church. What’s the overflow room at church? It’s the room you are herded into when you don’t get there early enough to sit in the main sanctuary with the rest of the saints. Some churches, like mine, have several.
Let me start by saying I don’t mind going into the overflow rooms. Sure, it doesn’t feel the same as being in the main sanctuary, but if you go to a church big enough to even have overflow, well, then, you know that you need to get to church early, especially on days like Easter—church’s Super Bowl Sunday—or Christmas or for watch night services.
For some families, it’s a struggle. If you have kids, you have to get up earlier than everybody else to show up later than everybody else, only to catch the Heisman at the entrance to the main sanctuary and be told that there’s no more room as you follow the rest of the late-early folks—that is, the early-for-normal-Sunday-but-late-for-Easter folks—down a hallway into a room with a projector and a gang of chairs.
It’s not ideal, especially when you can watch many church services online; it can have the same removed effect. And folks act different in the overflow. Folks get to talking more cavalierly than they otherwise would; there’s usually no personal touch, so many churchgoers can feel detached in a way that diminishes participation. I get it. Overflow rooms are not optimal.
But again, I don’t personally mind the overflow. If I’m in there, that means I’m at church, fellowshipping with other folks, getting my church on, different (perhaps lesser) experience notwithstanding. Not everybody feels this way. And by “everybody,” I mean I’ve never met a black woman who was OK with the overflow. Real talk: Many, many moons ago, a friend of mine actually cried—real tears, not of joy—that we had to go into the overflow room. And this was for, like, regular service, though I think there was a guest pastor.
Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, my family got to church late-early. The church we attend is sizable, with a huge membership, so I knew when we pulled into the parking lot that we were about to be overflow gang. My fiancee? She felt (assumed) differently. We took the chirrens to the children’s church and began our walk to the main sanctuary, which had a line for entry (you pay the admission cost later).
At the end of that line was a sign that said quite plainly, “The sanctuary is full.” There was also a woman standing next to the sign directing folks toward the overflow. Yet somehow, some way, we stood there at the front as if there weren’t several reminders that the main sanctuary was full, as my fiancee either thought nobody would notice us walking in or that she could will us into that room through sheer #BlackGirlMagic. Wallah? Overflow.
Because ain’t nobody about to outdo black women, though, we still stopped at the back entrance to the main sanctuary on the way to the overflow (more like she stopped and I shook my head) as if the same main sanctuary would magically open up extra seats because we came to a different entryway (with a bunch of other folks who clearly wanted that main-sanctuary life) before being told to take our behinds into the overflow. Which we did.
Were folks talking in there when service started? Yes. The woman in front of us was talking animatedly about some man who didn’t call her back, well through the beginning of service. Were people filing nails? Yes. Yes they were. Was the message received, though, in the overflow? Yes, yet it was, and offering was taken, so I felt like I was at church for reals.
Now, for me, it’s simple. I’m at church, and if it’s full, to the overflow we go. My fiancee was blown. She was disappointed and commented frequently—at least early on—about all the issues with the overflow room. Obviously, as service went along, the initial frustration wore off, and by the end, church was successfully accomplished and we all moved along happily to our post-church Easter plans—pictures in the parking lot and Popeye’s because nobody felt like cooking.
But Easter always reminds me of the supreme disdain that some folks have for overflow rooms at church. I did an informal poll of many of the men I knew, and while nobody is on #TeamOverflowAtAllTimesFam, if you end up in there, it just is what it is and you make the most of it.
But the women I asked—well, answers ranged from “I don’t do overflow” to “OMG IT SUCKS I MIGHT AS WELL STAY HOME AND WATCH SCANDAL!” Basically, nearly every woman I spoke to was highly opposed to the overflow room and felt (largely) like there’s no point of being in church if it’s not in the main sanctuary.
Now, I’m not nuts enough to think that this entirely breaks down on gender lines, but I am curious: How do you feel about having to go to the overflow room at church, especially on days like Easter?
Inquiring minds would like to know.