Monday, January 9, 2006
Yesterday morning, Hollie was sick, and I was running a few minutes late to church. I arrived in time for the baptism of Ava and Gabe by their grandfather, which was wonderful, but with the Booth family and friends and Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference attendees, there were no bulletins left (making it difficult to participate in the responsive reading, hymns, etc) or empty seats (making it difficult to sit down). So I looked at my watch and decided to pay a long-awaited visit to my friend John Jackson's church, Martin Temple CME, where service starts at 11 a.m. and latecomers aren't uncommon. (I'm not kidding; there are rubrics in the bulletin designating the various points at which "Delayed worshippers may enter.")
I met Pastor Jackson at Kinko's, and he and I have had numerous conversations about church and faith, on topics ranging from church unity and segregated churches to denominationalism and the CME. We've discussed paedocommunion (which he practices), weekly communion (which, following parish tradition, he unfortunately doesn't practice; but at least they have monthly communion), teetotalism (which he views as an area where the Methodist tradition runs the risk of being holier-than-thou and so heavenly-minded it's no earthly good), etc. He once told me that he "feels my spirit," and he's extended an open invitation to me to speak at Martin Temple anytime. So I was relieved yesterday when I arrived and saw that he already had a guest preacher, the Reverend Frederick Wagner. (Pastor Jackson was suffering from fatigue and infection and due a vacation anyway, so he asked his old friend, Fred Wagner, to preach. Owner of a mortuary transportation company, Lincoln Parish coroner, and associate pastor of Mt Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Grambling, Reverend Wagner preached a solid, faithful sermon from Philippians 3:12-16, specifically "pressing toward the mark for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," with a heavy emphasis on daily faithfulness and saturating oneself in the Word and prayer.) Pastor Jackson still tried to get me to lead the responsive reading and/or say a few words. I initially declined because I wanted to observe first and participate from the pew, but after being invited three times during the service to come up and address the congregation, I finally acquiesced (lest I be rude) and said something briefly at the end.
The service or "worship experience" was very encouraging. I love small, faithful parishes, and the congregation at Martin Temple is both small (with 30 or so people) and full of faith. As I walked in, Pastor Jackson's voice was booming "How Great Thou Art," and I was impressed and a bit surprised by his rich, loud singing voice. (Before, I'd only heard him speak in the low, quiet voice of a moderate smoker; but at times I felt like the singing was being led by an older, rounder, shorter Samuel Jackson.) Likewise, the congregation's participation was zealous and orderly. I knew they used a set liturgy - I'd printed the bulletins numerous times - but I didn't know how high or low it would be, how much room for black gospel spirituality there would be, etc. What I found was a perfect blending of traditional liturgy with simple, soulful gospel worship. It's hard to describe, but it was beautiful to participate in.
I went away all the more sure that if I'm to do anything to help build bridges between Monroe's segregated churches, Martin Temple is the place for me to start. The congregation was warm and inviting, and they love their pastor, who doesn't have a sectarian bone in his body but welcomes old Missionary Baptist friends and new white Presbyterian/Anglican friends to share with them in ministry.
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