Despite his intention never to set foot inside a church again, a man finds himself peeking in at a most unusual congregation.
Published in Limestone. (Summer 2009)
I had no intention of ever setting foot in a church again—apart from the occasional wedding or funeral, of course. I suppose I could blame it on the traffic lights. When traveling across Manhattan by foot, I’ve learned that you can sometimes progress diagonally without ever breaking stride if you let the traffic light at each corner decide for you whether to continue eastward or downtown. In this way I found myself walking down an unfamiliar block in the Garment District, one with a church in mid block. Did I even notice the church as I approached? Hard to say. Still, the pull of the music was undeniable. And so I climbed the steps just to take a peek inside. But lo and behold, when I reached the top step, the door opened, and a young man held out a program.
"Come inside, brother. Come and hear the message.”
“No, thanks,” I replied. “Just curious.”
“There’s no charge.”
“Well, maybe just for a minute.”
I sat down in the last pew, already calculating how to make my escape. Looking around the room, I noticed the familiar wooden rafters and ceiling moldings from the Baptist church I had attended in upstate New York as a kid. I shuddered at the memory of the day I was baptized—not at birth, when more barbarous denominations stamped you with the indelible sign of the church—but at age thirteen, an age when there could be no denying that you had accepted membership voluntarily. My inability to swim and fear of water made me unusually nervous that day, causing me to slip when Reverend Bradley lowered me into the pool behind the altar. The loud splash followed by the sight of my bare feet shooting up into the air caused the congregation to laugh until my coughing fit made them realize I could have drowned. I got the last laugh when I sent the congregation an open letter of resignation during my freshman year of college and simply assumed that anyone who took my letter and its carefully worded skepticism seriously would follow suit and abandon the church, too. My assumption seemed validated when the church was forced to sell its premises to an Armenian orthodox congregation some years later.
So what was I doing in church now? The music—that’s right. Simple curiosity. Free entertainment on a Saturday night. I’d heard this kind of music on TV many times, of course, but never in person. The raw emotion on display as well as the feelings welling up inside me were startling, almost frightening. But what were they singing exactly?
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