Mary Janes on Sunday Morning
Over the years I have always been fascinated with history. I attended high school in Columbus, Ohio. I was very blessed to have a mother and father who encouraged education and knowledge. I grew up attending Union Grove Baptist church in Columbus. My pastor Reverend Phale D. Hale baptized me when I was in the third grade. He was a great man of God in my eyes. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. I grew up at a time when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. The idea of knowing someone who was a part of such a heroic effort was astonishing to me. On Sunday mornings when I had a hard time focusing on the sermon, I could draw pictures of him on the backs of the church bulletins. For anyone who has ever been to a Black church, you know that it can last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours depending on the Sunday line up. You were only allowed as a kid to make so many trips to the bathroom to wake yourself up. The peppermint candy my Mom kept in her purse was only a tease. After about 3 pieces of candy, I was fixed on getting my hand on the hard stuff: Mary Jane, candy lip sticks, Tootsie Rolls, and fake candy cigarettes. Some of the braver kids in the church would take bathroom breaks and slide down the street to Carl’s market. They would come back with enough candy to sell you a few pieces, if you had held any money back in your pockets from the offering. It was like a drug deal every Sunday. The negotiations for the candy were intense. I saw kids promise next week’s offering if they could get a small fix.
The standard procedure for leaving the church service was lifting up your index finger above your head, crouching down and creeping out of the church’s back doors. It was so common to see people do this that the ones who stood out were the ones who just got up and left without raising their fingers. We all knew they were the visitors. They didn’t know the rules.
All this fascinated me because it was Black history living in our times. The traditions and rituals that came down from slavery, and Africa helped define our culture in America. This old Baptist church was a hallmark for Civil Rights in Columbus. The architecture of the church made me of think of the bricks of the Black men who built it. The walls and stained glass reflected the pennies and dollars gathered every Sunday to construct a beautiful expression of God with us. The ceilings of the church roof were all adorned with stained glass that let in glorious light from above. I recall gazing at the pigeons and doves that sat on the glass during the services every Sunday. I would look up and imagine angels leaning over the stained glass and being blessed by the praises to God echoing from the church. I was conditioned after many years of being in this atmosphere to worship God with reverence. The children who attended this church, at times sitting with their grandparents, had the privilege of inheriting the glory that came through the praises to God every Sunday. I was conditioned at the first note of the sound to tear up and weep with joy and tenderness of heart. I could feel the love and holiness of God as I heard the saints sing from their souls regarding the burdens of life. I saw shouting and the release of burdens every Sunday. Burdens fell off of the weary like bags of sand from a high bridge over troubled waters. I saw Jesus love us, hold us, comfort us, and touch our souls. I was conditioned to always know him as Savior. I accepted that conditioning and it helped in every way to build into my life the cornerstone of my faith.
When the choir marched in on Sundays we all stood and waited for the songs to move us. It only took a few moments for the earth to shake with the joyous, rhythmic stomping of our feet. It was the procession that led us to the altar of God in hearts. The choir, the songs, the traditions were a history that we have lived. It also represents a history which is still relevant to our current struggles as a people. For me this Black church was a crucial part of forming my personal history, from the continuous act of seeking God, to an appreciation for Civil Rights based upon the merciful Jesus I learned about in the weekly sermons. This church was relevant, and girded me up for being called ‘Nigger’ at the newly desegregated school I attended every day. The songs and words washed over me and strengthened me for the ordeal of being hated for no reason when I went to the White stores. The uplifting music washed over the discrimination that I lived through every day for being young, gifted, and Black. My experiences in church every Sunday allowed me to get through the trials to come in my life. I can always glance over my shoulder at the past and hear the choir singing, see the stained glass windows, and the elderly women in white, my mother, and the mothers of the church urging me onward. I remember Reverend Hale preaching Jesus so strong that I felt Jesus show up and help us. When I glance back, I can see forward and know that I shall overcome.