The bible says that in marriage, a man and a woman will come together and become one flesh. So it stands to reason that up until that event, they come from two different bodies, two different families, two different paths and most of the time, two different faiths. Such was the case with my mother and father, who were raised Baptist and Methodist, respectively.
I grew up at St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal (AME Zion), my father’s church and that of his father and mother. It was quite the serene scene: organ, piano, purple carpeting and pews, adult choir, young adult choir, female ushers in all white with white gloves, pastor and two people seated behind him on opposite sides like Bobby Brown backup dancers. If you ask me, the average attendee was more concerned with prissiness, “keeping up appearances” than anything else. This was particularly evident in those who appeared to catch The Holy Ghost; always jubilantly, but brief and reserved enough to keep their church hats from coming off – and they never left their seat.
Prior to their marriage, my mother attended a Baptist church that was an extension of the type you typically find in the deep south. If you read my blog about “black churches”, you know what that means: Wooden floors and benches (or folding chairs), a balcony for the high rise Holy Rollers, ushers, church mothers, a choir loft, 3 pastors with a bench of back-up speakers, elders & deacons, a gospel choir bigger than the congregation, musical ensemble comprised of the retired members of Motown’s studio musicians “The Funk Brothers”, a baptismal pool behind the leaders, no air conditioning and as a result, a First Aid room with an 8″ electric fan with faulty wiring.
On this Sunday, my mother somehow convinced my father to let her take me and my older sister to her (former) church. My father laughed and warned that I was “in for it”. When I asked what that meant, she corrected that I would get a taste of real praise and what “catching the Holy Ghost” really looked like. I was a little worried about their interpretation of playful banter, but I had always been curious to see what happens, live and up close – especially since I had often been told that receiving the Holy Spirit (aka da Holy Ghost) was a prerequisite for entering Heaven.
Wait. That was never covered in Sunday School! Well, if it WAS, I must have missed it. I was probably too busy staring at-
Anyway, this church was everything I thought it would be as I explained earlier, all the way down to the lack of proper airflow. We sat about halfway deep in the congregation, on the right side; momma on the outer end, then my sister Denise, then me. On my left was this unbelievably large woman who went back and forth between sleep, which resulted in a weight and position shift, much to my discomfort. No further comment, Your Honor.
It had its differences, but I just wanted to see one thing: the receiving of The Holy Ghost (and “speaking in tongues”)! At this young age, I’d neither respected, nor taken either seriously. I just wanted something hilarious to share with my brothers after laughing with my sister about it. And it didn’t take long. We hadn’t gotten 15 minutes into worship service before someone in the back started screaming something I couldn’t understand and bucking in her seat like she was riding a bronco at the rodeo. I wanted so badly to scream “10 seconds!”, but common sense and a soft behind prevailed.
Service went on and as far as comparisons went, it was noticeably more active and considerably louder. Unlike A.M.E., people didn’t seem to be concerned with how their praising was received or perceived by others. There was plenty of dancing in the aisles, much rejoicing and a whole lotta sweat. And did I mention that there was no A.C.?
At this point, I was rapidly losing interest in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues or anything else contributing to my salvation. I was convinced that if anyone would speak in tongues, it would be ME because mine was stiffening from the onset of dehydration. My ONLY desired salvation was making it the water fountain, then outside, where air actually moved – freely. I wanted to ask my mother if I could be excused, but I had already been to the bathroom, twice, just to get out from under the heavily perspiring lady next to me who had caused my arm to go numb. I’d asked Denise to switch places with me and she only laughed and wickedly shook her head in full understanding of my reason.
After the collection plate had been passed around for the 8th or 9th time (this time, for the pastor’s Ivory Backscratcher) the choir began what seemed like its 8th or 9th song (and thankfully we remained seated by this point because all the stamping, clapping and stomping was wearing me out).
Although I had never heard this particular song before, I was enjoying the spaced, yet energetic lyrics:
“Lord (clap, clap), Jesus (clap, clap), Almighty (clap, clap), Fatherrrrrrrr bless meeeeeeeee“.
I joined them in the rhythmic clap, forgetting about my discomfort and the rib-bruising elbowing from a reawakened “Big Momma” on my left as she sang along. The song continued as the lead singer worked his way out from the choir, past the pastor, to the right of the church, then down the steps, finally along the right hand side of the pews as he continued singing, “Lord (clap, clap), Jesus (clap, clap), Almighty (clap, clap), Fatherrrrrrrr–
And just as he reached our row, without warning he jumped, in mid phrase, spiraling into the air, across and into the laps of my mother, Denise, myself and Big Momma…
…snatching Big Momma’s beads off of her necklace during his descent, he fell to the floor and began convulsing. What I saw I didn’t identify as rejoicing as much as I guessed it to be an epileptic seizure!
So why did I get into trouble? Well, when he fell, I jumped up and yelled something similar to “Holy Spirit!” But to be exact, I used a different S-word before running out of the church.
I think what sealed the deal was me later telling my father that if I had to do all that to get to Heaven, I’d rather take my chances with going to Hell. I added that it probably wasn’t that bad after all.
Cause that’s when I got the whoopin’…
…and I think I finally got the Holy Ghost!
My name is “Damien” and this has been, another Church Tale…