By Vincent L. Hall
Many of my fondest childhood memories were strategically stationed at the church. I had the pleasure of living much of my formative years with my grandparents, specifically the Reveren Zachariah Alexander Peter James John Figures, known to the public and his fellow pulpiteers as Z. R.
After living that life, the news that a Flashy Pastor in New York was robbed at gunpoint was alarming and a bit disappointing. The overtures that this Pastor may have some criminality in his background do not alleviate my fears that churches and church leaders have lost a ton of respect.
Living in the parsonage of the Goodwill Baptist Church just 60 feet diagonally from the steps of the sanctuary taught me a lot. Anything that I didn’t glean from Papa’s infamous strap, I learned by watching the people who came in and around the perimeter of the church.
Most of the “well-trained” pedestrians who sauntered the streets paid strict obeisance to the stature and the sanctity of the church grounds. If a smoker walked by, he extinguished his cigarette and resumed his puff sensation after he was well beyond the front door.
Likewise, winos, jickheads, and drunks secured their serum safely in their posterior pockets as they made their sinful procession toward home or some den of ill-repute.
It was not enough that the liquor was hidden in pint-sized paper bags; they eased by as if God’s vision was impaired by the church walls.
Of course, Rev. Figures had taught us that God was omnipresent and omniscient, so we knew these sinners were just paying their respects. God had the “whole world in his hands” and it was just his “Amazing Grace” that allowed those sinners to live on. I wasn’t smoking and drinking then, but I knew I was a sinner too; just a different kind.
The Church; every church in our community was sacred. You would have thought Jesus could see you from each picture frame. It was the place where I learned what it means to be a gentleman. Our mothers had a healthy disdain for heathens and took stringent measures to see that we didn’t fall among their brood.
Once we were in church we couldn’t chew gum, talk, or fidget. My mother scolded me often for having the nerve to put my hands in my pocket as I stood for prayer.
She deemed it disrespectful to do anything that did not reverence God or his Holy Temple.
Reverend Figures was even worse. He didn’t believe in clapping as a matter of applause or to keep the beat of the music. He could never have accepted the instruments and “worldly music” that dominate today’s church services. God was God, the world was the world and never the two were twain.
There were several occasions when I despised my rigorous religious regimen. I grew weary of attending Sunday School, Worship Service, and three o’clock Teas with all them old women. The mints, peanuts, punch, and cookies were good. But in the back of my mind, I knew we still had B.T.U. (Baptist Training Union) ahead of us at six post meridiem.
The church is different, but we cannot forget that it is the backbone of our escape, from slavery to Jim Crow, to a prolonged struggle for civil rights that still eludes us as a people. The Black Church, which is distinctly different from churches where Blacks are in the majority, has been the incubator and life support of our experience on this continent.
My grandfather used to say that you don’t sh!t where you eat. You don’t forget where you come from. You never really miss your water until the baptismal pool runs dry.
We have forgotten our roots. Some things are sacred and the more we lose sight of that, the more vulnerable we become to attacks in the church and our homes.
Bishop Lamor Whitehead could never led me for two reasons. First, any man of the cloth that wears suits with G’s imprinted on it and the G stands for Gucci and not God, is lost and can’t lead. Second, my granddaddy warned me about the thinking that allows a man to drive a $100k car and live in a $400/month apartment.
Whitehead’s storefront could use some of the money he splurged on the “Bishop’s Ring” he claims to have lost.
But at any rate, this robbery was an Amazing Disgrace!
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.