Aug 30, 2009

Challenge # 23 : Attend a Black Baptist Church Service

Let me tell you something, you haven't lived until you've attended a church service at a predominantly black church. The music, the energy, the preacher, and the friendliness of the congregation were a phenomenal sight. The more than two hours flew by faster than you can do the sign of the cross at a Catholic mass. Believe it or not, this non-church going Catholic actually felt good about going. Just like a great book, the movie depictions about gospel churches does not compare to the real experience.

The Messiah Missionary Baptist Church is the oldest black baptist church in the area - opening its doors in 1890. It is located on the intersection of Henry and James St. in the SE side of downtown Grand Rapids. My friend, Tony Campbell, is one of the preachers of the church. He invited me to check the church out, though he was not present this morning since he was preaching at another church.

Female greeters in red jackets opened the doors for me. An usher wearing a black suit and white gloves shook my hands upon entering and actually had the decency to fix my collar which was not tucked in neatly inside my jacket. As expected, I was the only Asian in the church, though to my surprise, there were several caucasian parishioners and visitors. There was one white male who was part of the church staff - helping out with the reading and the blessing of those who accepted the Lord towards the end of the service.

The forty or so all-female choir in full white garb rocked the house with each song. I enjoyed watching one of the heavy-set choir leaders really get down like a dancer for Janet Jackson.  In between the songs, half of the choir fanned themselves with the church program as if they were gasping for every inch of air inside the church. Ushers also handed out cardboard fans with advertisements to the rest of the congregations. Pretty soon, about a fourth of the congregations were fanning themselves. The AC was working just fine, but it must be a habit from their pre-AC days. This reminded me of a typical scene inside any church in my tropical country.

The music accompaniment was loud like a concert in the arena. Guests, including me, were asked to stand to be welcomed by the congregation. Birthday celebrants were also asked to stand as the choir sang their rendition of a gospel "happy birthday." Young girls in black outfits performed a beautiful liturgical dance for the church.

Midway through the service, the Reverend Clifton Rhodes, Jr., shared with the congregation that there were several members of the church who have asked for assistance for school supplies for the upcoming school year.  A deacon pulled five names out of a decorated box, and as each names is called, the Reverend handed them a $200 gift. One lady cried so hard after hearing her name that the a few parishioners had to help her regain her composure. The Reverend explained that a local businessman, Mr. Roosevelt Tillman, donated the money for the school supplies and matched this gesture with three other churches in the area. To top it off, Mr. Tillman handed the Reverend a check for an additional $2,000 after the 8:00 AM church service earlier this morning. Wow!

Then, the sermon came. The Reverend read a short passage from James 3:13-18. But don't be deceived by the length of the scripture, because for the next hour, the Reverend Rhodes eloquently took us on an oratorical journey full of thunderous emotion and smart humor. It was awesome!

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