Parting Glances: Pages from a book (Pt. 4)

Charles Alexander
By | 2017-10-31T07:52:34-05:00 October 31st, 2017|Opinions|

My mother took me Sundays to First Baptist Church from the time I was five until I turned 12. We rode with a Mrs. Williamson, her two sons, William and Robert.
Detroit’s First Baptist (now People’s Community Church) was affiliated with the American Baptist Convention, a liberal group, in contrast to the fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptists.
When I turned 12 (“the age of accountability”) I became eligible for church membership through the rite of total-immersion baptism. I took this step seriously, even though I looked with some interest at the other boys who, naked, were putting on their white, full-length baptismal robes.
I was also dimly aware that the organist and choir director, Dr. Cyril Baker, had a funny walk and exaggerated mannerisms. But his selection of music was impeccable and contributed at some level to my nascent aesthetic sensibility.
Following my baptism I was given a Holy Bible, in which Pastor Rev. Ernest L. Honts wrote, “To Robert [my middle name], May you always be a good monk.” To this day I don’t know what he meant. Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a small — very small — portion of my long life performing sackcloth and ashes penance for my many sins of commission and omission.
My mother insisted that year I was baptized that I go to Baptist Camp. Whether or not the brothers William and Robert went as well I don’t recall, but, devout Baptist that I was, I was eager to go. Quite innocently I thought nothing of taking along several issues of “Strength & Health” magazine, featuring my musclemen idols, Clarence Ross and Steve Reeves.
I did everything that one was expected to do at a religious camp. I prayed, read scripture, wrote poetry (“A day at camp is a happy one.”), swam, canoed, played baseball, and got brown as the proverbial berry. I also developed an attachment — actually a crush — on my camp counselor, Jerry Mistele. I was in tears when I had to say goodbye and wrote him several chatty letters. He answered one.
I stopped going to First Baptist shortly thereafter, probably because Mrs. Williamson moved and there was no one to drive us to service. By the time I turned 15 I found a friendly neighborhood church to attend: The Missionary Workers Tabernacle (Interdenominational), which I attended faithfully three times a week.
The curious thing (and today I would say marvelous thing) is that the Tabernacle was run by women who, despite the biblical admonition “suffer not a woman to speak in church,” felt the call to preach the gospel. They played banjos, guitars, trumpets, mandolins, tamborine, preached and sang.
The Tabernacle was founded in 1923 by Anna Curry Spellman, who, it was quietly said, was related to — notoriously gay — Francis Cardinal Spellman. Attending there — I was usually the only teen at the Wednesday Night Testimonial Service — certainly kept me from getting in trouble in a neighborhood that was above-average rough.
Even so, a few things puzzled me. I speculated about what sort of sins regularly drove Brother Townsend to the altar to confess them — although it certainly wasn’t any of my business. I also felt it was somewhat unChristian for Sister Norton to say that “Blacks should attend their own churches. Races shouldn’t mix.”
Perhaps most disturbing was the sad plight of one of the younger Missionary Workers, blond-braided Sister Anderson, who I recall one Sunday service being completely distraught and sobbing uncontrollably. Her brother had died unexpectedly “unsaved” and was now suffering torments of Hell.

About the Author:

Charles Alexander