By: Ruth Z. Demming
The following was broadcast on WDVR-FM, as are all sermons on the Delaware Valley Radio Network.
“I ain’t gonna lie to you,” pronounced Pastor Art Washington. “We done lost seven of our parishioners to the coronavirus. God Almighty, in his wisdom, saw fit to bring them home.”
Listeners could hear the old pastor sniffling.
He mumbled a brief prayer and then everything turned to static. The broadcast was over. But not the meeting at the church, nestled like a step-child into wealthy Huntingdon Valley, PA.
“Well-done, Pastor Art,” said Mona. “I still would like you to marry me and Frankie,” she said.
“Frankie and you,” corrected the pastor. “You’d be only the third inter-racial couple in our church.”
The first one was never discussed and for good reason. Murder-suicide. A leap, holding hands, from the Bensalem Bridge.
Mona, who had curly blonde hair that fell to her shoulders, said her parents had finally agreed to the marriage. Her dad owned a Volvo and Lexus dealership in wealthy Rydal Park.
Money, money, money.
Was that all people thought about?
Frank Brockwell clasped his fiance’s hand.
The parishioners had bought this small but magnificent church when it was a one-room schoolhouse for Black children. Three teachers educated all twenty-six of the children. Although Ms. Ruby Smith had long since passed, her children did her proud. Pastor Art Washington was an award-winning preacher, decorated by the Pennsylvania Union of Teachers, Governor’s Council and other important leaders.
After taking up a collection, the church evolved from a school to a real church. Stained glass windows were done gratis by a master from The Lord’s New Church in nearby Bryn Athyn, PA.
When you walked into the church, a hush would come over you. You felt you were in the presence of the Lord. Stained glass windows glistened along the sides. Wood – expensive rosewood, at that – created a glow that might remind you of the original manger where the Christ Child was born.
“Daddy, how about if we eat some of that chili that Mrs. Bernstein dropped off?”
“Good idea, child,” said the Pastor to his daughter, Artemis.
“I’ll heat it up now,” volunteered long-time member, Verdie May Rickels.
If God had been listening, and who’s to say he wasn’t, the goings-on were as busy as a beehive getting ready for the winter months.
Ever heard of Rev. Joel Osteen? He is the Senior Pastor of American’s largest church, Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas. As a televangelist, he has millions of followers. And, as far as we can tell, he is clean, clean as a whistle, unlike many others who “milk” naïve readers for their money. Osteen sends constant messages to his followers on the Internet, such as: Don’t get discouraged by what’s not changing. Instead, let that challenge you to call it in even stronger. God is faithful to what He promised.”
Osteen was unlike the PTL “Praise the Lord” Club, for example – whose founder, Jim Bakker, was imprisoned for fraud and other charges. But, as we know, you can’t keep a sinner man down and Bakker lost no time in creating Morningside Church in Blue Eye, MO.
The parishioners, riled up over so many deaths, clustered in the sacred church. Unlike larger churches, they all knew one another, their likes and dislikes, a scandal or two, attached like a cat’s tail, and every member of the church took a role in helping them resolve their problems.
AA meetings were always suggested. Pastor Art personally assisted young Claudette O’Nally. They drove over in his red SUV, helping Ms. O’Nally step high up onto the platform and then he pointed to the harness to strap herself in for safety.
She hung her head in shame the first couple of times they went to meetings at Lincoln Methodist Church, but soon she was free of her terrible habit. For her it was “The White Russian,” Kahlua and Crème, found in her daddy’s liquor cabinet.
The gang helped themselves to more chili. The door was opened so the fresh air could enter. Breezes blew inside. Murmurs of “feels so good” – “ahhh” – “Praise the Lord” – slipped unconsciously from the churchgoers’ lips.
The engaged couple – Frankie and Mona – sat at the kitchen table and looked at one another.
“Hey, darling,” said Mona, “are your parents antisemitic?”
Frank’s skin was black as licorice. He wore a beige turtleneck.
“Prob-ab-lee!” he answered truthfully.
“I was brought up Jewish and have always accepted it, even though the Jews had the most terrible things happen to them,” she said.
He nodded with compassion.
She had told him about her ancestors who had perished in concentration camps.
“In Sunday School,” she said, “we took a trip to the Philadelphia Holocaust Museum. It was unforgettable!”
She had also shown him her white Confirmation Bible with gilded gold pages and her name, “Mona Abrams” written in gold lettering on the front.
Frank promised he would never let anything bad happen to her.
She watched his face soften.
Suddenly, for the very first time, she wondered if that were true.
“When I go home,” she thought, “I will talk about this with my friends Lisa and Sandy.” They had good ole-fashioned common sense.
Someone had brought in their portable stereo. It was young, handsome Floyd Connelly, named after the former boxer, Floyd Patterson, whose black hair stood straight up as a rooster’s coxcomb. Many of the women chased after him. Floyd told the pastor, “I gotta make my way in the world first before I take on the responsibilities of marrying and making little Black babies.”
“You sure is smart, Floyd,” said the preacher, clapping him on the shoulders.
Floyd turned up his boom box.
We might fight, sometimes we disagree
You’re not right but that’s alright with me
Love it when you’re calling out my name
Baby I’m a doing the same
I ain’t scared to let you know
I would never let you go
You’re the only one I need
Baby come to me
“Catchy,” said the preacher.
“That’s the famous – yes, famous – Mary J. Bilge,” said Floyd.
“Jes’ one more taste of chili,” said young Sara Wise, looking over at Floyd, “and then I’m out of here. Wanna watch a new show on Netflix about Black folks.
“Yes, it’s called Greenleaf,” said Sara, “and just about every character gives a bad name to Black people!”
The group laughed and a few said they watched it. Many found it too hard to take with all the scandals and lies and pregnancies.
“Well,” said Preacher Washington. “Much as I hate to say this, but you-all gotta take yourselves home. God bless each and every one of you beautiful people. May you prosper and stay safe.”
The sound of engines echoed into the twilight.