About Me

My photo
Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

Popular Posts

Thursday, May 10, 2007

We walked into the open space of a multipurpose room which was set up as the sanctuary for Sunday worship. As we approached the greeting table, a man in a colorful shirt approached and hugged each of us, saying, "Hi, I'm Roscoe." It was the end of Sunday School time, and the separate classes were wrapping up their discussions and preparing to regather in the sanctuary to discuss the Bible lesson.

Not quite a year ago, Christian Unity Baptist Church had reopened for worship. It had been a large congregation, thriving just north of the French Quarter at Claiborne and Conti Streets. The building had been remodeled from other uses, and it was sturdy. It also had the unusual feature of being elevated on stilts with a parking lot beneath the building. For these reasons, it had weathered Hurricane Katrina better than some other churches, although the damage was significant. With its members scattered throughout the states, its pastor in California, and its building damaged, the church struggled to keep itself together. With the assistance of Churches Supporting Churches, Christian Unity was able to reopen for worship in the summer of 2006.

Rev. Dwight Webster greeted us in his office and introduced us to some of the leadership of the congregation. It was a warm welcome, and we eagerly awaited the opportunity to share in worship. We took a seat near the front, and soon we were joined by the Sunday School classes for a final assembly. The superintendent reviewed the lesson, and some of the young people were asked to reiterate key points from their study. With some encouragement, they bore witness to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Soon the worship hour began, and there was praise and prayer, singing and dancing. The service was accompanied by an organist, a pianist, a drummer, and a saxophonist. There was some traditional gospel style in the organ playing, but it was not exactly the same as we usually hear in North Carolina. The saxophone was the first clue, but the other instruments also brought a strong jazz influence into the music. Sometimes it was gospel, sometimes gospel-jazz, and other times just plain jazz.

Later in the week, I had opportunity to hear jazz singer Arlee Leonard at St. Anna's Episcopal Church, as part of an evening of ministry to struggling musicians which included a meal and a one-stop ministry center. Her selections included Dorsey's "Precious Lord" and some other tunes that brought the gospel influence to the jazz performance. And the final line of the refrain, "lead me home," took on a special significance for the context of New Orleans evacuees who are holding out the hope to come back home.

Rev. Webster had many organizational matters to discuss with the congregation. He talked about giving and budgets and planning and development. He reminded anyone who was concerned that his travel back and forth to California was being funded in part by Churches Supporting Churches and was not coming out of their pockets. He offered comfort and support to those in need, and he heard reports from deacons, members, ministers, and guests. He recognized members living out of town who had made the trip to New Orleans that weekend. There is much to do in a short time when a congregation is as scattered at Christian Unity's.

One new member, a man recently released from prison, told how he had been on his own and alone when he walked out of the prison gate. He was homeless, and he came to Christian Unity to find some people who would care about him. In a short time, with the support of the church, he had found a job and housing, and he felt like he had a family even though his relatives are scattered around the country. It was a moment of joy for the whole congregation.

An associate minister, Rev. Audrey Johnson, was the preacher for the day. She continues to live in Humble, Texas, with her husband and family. She has recovered from cancer and a stroke, but she is doing well and showing few signs of her previous illness. Her sermon centered around the statement, "It has come to pass, but not to stay." With that theme she addressed the situations confronting everyone in the congregation. Most had seen their homes damaged or destroyed. Many who could not be present were living in other towns and cities. Jobs had been lost. Schools were closed. Some had lost loved ones. Friends had been separated. The church had been dispersed. But even though it had come to pass, it had not come to stay.

The injustices and abuses of power would not win the day. The destruction would not be the final word. The relocation of half the city's residents would not serve the greedy plans of developers who hope they will never come back. New Orleans had suffered great devastation, but it did not come to stay. Rebuilding homes, families, friendships, economic institutions, and churches would be the answer to the devastation. Even if the Road Home becomes a Road to Nowhere, the people of Christian Unity and of New Orleans will rise again. A risen Savior offers the promise that death and destruction are not the end of the story.

She grew tired as the sermon went on, and stopped to drink some water. Then she decided that what had been said was enough. It was an emotional moment for all who listened, for we had been moved with her and by her words. Rev. Webster offered the invitation to those who were present. They listened, they hesitated, and then they came. Eight people came to unite with Christian Unity Baptist Church on that day. Some had recently returned to live in New Orleans and needed to find a church. Others had been in New Orleans for awhile, and they had felt the Holy Spirit's prodding to get back into a church. One woman said she had been "looking" for a church for forty-two years, and she had come to realize that it was time for her to be baptized and become part of a church. Half of the people who came to join brought infants and toddlers with them.

So many people were making new beginnings with God. It was a day of rejoicing and of hope. Stepping out on faith to make a new start works so much better when we do it in the company of others who will love and support us, and who will call on us with love and support. We have to be in this together, and that is the message Christian Unity Baptist Church wants to offer.

2 comments:

Thom said...

Not to nit-pick, but... the singer at St. Anna's was Arlee Leonard.

It was SO good to see you by the way...

Mike Broadway said...

Thanks, Thom. I fixed the name and added it to the "labels" so I could give her a plug. Not only is she a very good singer, but her giving to the community is commendable.

Baptist Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf
Christian Peace Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf