Church Stories II: Part 3: Center of Love Church
Written by Myron J. Clifton
“I sent Moses to lead you, but also Aaron and Miriam”
The choir was singing so loudly the church seemed to be a concert hall, with women and men dancing and shouting all over the church is unison, as if one knew and understood the beat that the two drummers pounded into the drums and cymbals.
Jamaal was standing and clapping to the beat and watching all the colorfully dressed men and women praise the lord. The dancing and tribal thumping music had been going on for thirty minutes and there didn’t seem to be an end.
This was one of those times, Jamaal knew, that things would not settle down until the pastor shouted himself and stopped, which would have the effect of calming things down. Most of the time, that is.
Today was different. The entire feel of the church was different from what Jamaal knew and understood of the order of things.
The church was modern, having been built only ten years ago in the middle of one of the deadliest neighborhoods in the city. And who was brave enough to build a brand-new church there?
The Pastor of Center of Love Church, Augustina C. Meers. And Pastor Meers was an anomaly in the area, Jamaal knew.
The national church did not allow women preachers, ministers, evangelists, and certainly not pastors. But here was pastor Meers leading one of the largest churches in the area – which was at least three times the size of Jamaal’s grandfather’s church, he believed – and no one seemed to care.
Jamaal had asked his grandfather why she could be a pastor when no other woman could.
“Her father was a big shot with the national church and folk loved him. She is his oldest daughter and when he was dying but still attending church, the old man told folk she would be his successor and if they had problems with it or her, to take it up with him before he died. So Augustina became acting pastor while her father was still alive but unable to stand or even come to church more than once every couple of months. By the time he died she had established herself as pastor and folk accepted her.
Most folk, anyway. Some rebelled and after constant fights, she left to start her own church. She used her inheritance and her father’s connections to get loans and before anyone knew what was happening, she’d built the church and within a couple of years she grew her membership to close to ten thousand.”
“Wow.” Was all Jamaal could think to say. All his life he had heard so much hatred directed at women in his grandfather’s and other churches that he struggled to understand how she could be in her position.
“I’m glad she showed them.” Jamaal finally said to his grandfather who did not respond.
The music finally died down and now Pastor Meers got up to talk prior to raising money. She was tall and thin. Very dark with sharp angular features that gave her a royal appearance. When she spoke her voice was husky, Jamaal thought, husky and thoughtful.
She looked tired, but her warm smile and wide-open eyes gave her the appearance that was familiar: that of an Auntie.
As she spoke, Jamaal finally took the time to take in the membership, choir, ushers, and others. It dawned on him that there were a lot of women in the church who seemed to be in pairs. And the men who were there Jamaal believed but did not know for certain, were gay.
Pastor Meers turned her fundraising talk into a mini-sermon and the church membership were back on their feet doing their part of the classic call-and-response.
Jamaal used the opportunity to slip out of the sanctuary and into the kitchen where dinner would be served after church. The kitchen smells of any Black church – the smell of heaven.
Jamaal breathed it in, walked over the counter and asked for a plate. That was all that was needed in the church: Just ask for a plate and you’d usually be served fried chicken, greens, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, string beans, maybe red beans and rice, a piece of lettuce, and one or two pieces of cake, one of which was certainly red velvet. Your drink was something beyond sweet and full of red dye number twelve.
Jamaal didn’t pay and the women working the kitchen were fine with it because they knew his grandfather and so they said they’d also save him a big plate for later and he could pay then.
Taking his plate to a table that he could have to himself, Jamaal sat down and dug into his heavenly meal.
Not more than a few minutes later, a fella sat down next to Jamaal, his plate full. Jamaal was jealous of his full plate.
“Mind if I sit here?” the young man said as he sat down.
He was a bit older than Jamaal, very handsome, and his suit was tight and fitted. He also dove into his plate just like Jamaal did a few moments earlier.
They ate but didn’t speak much beyond a few grunts to indicate how good the food was.
“You a preacher’s son? I’m Craig. What church you go to? You like it here?”
“Uhm, well” Jamaal tried answering but Craig kept talking and asking questions.
“This is a nice church. I just started going here. You been here before? You like Pastor Meers? I like her. She’s gets things. Gets me. And my friends. What do you think about women preachers? You ever hear a choir like that? My… friend was the lead singer of the second song. Julian is his name. The cute one up there, you couldn’t miss him.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll look next time.”
“I’m queer if you can’t tell. Gay. Homosexual. Fag. Whatever. I still love God and God loves me. Don’t let these folks put you in hell for who you love or who loves you. God don’t like ugly and most of those folks who are putting us in hell are sinners, too. I ain’t got time for their b.s. Excuse my Black-French.”
“You’re funny.” Jamaal finally got a word in.
“And you’re cute. The girls and boys will like you. Who do you like?”
“Girls.” Jamaal answered.
“I thought so. But don’t knock it until you try it, sweetie.”
“Okay.” Jamaal answered but wasn’t sure that was the right answer.
“Now you’re funny. What’s your name even. I’m just running my mouth and I don’t even know who I’m talking to.”
“Cute. Jamaal. I like it.”
“Me too. How long have you been with your partner?” Jamaal asked, genuinely interested because he had, up to this point, never had a long conversation with a gay person who was just a little older than himself.
“Three years. I love him and he loves me. Our families support us – it was rough for a while but now they do. It’s a blessing that many of our friends don’t have. I got kicked out of my church, though. Kicked out and told me I was damned to hell. Oh well. If this church is hell, then I’m staying!” Craig said and they both laughed.
“Can I ask you a personal question, Craig. About being gay. I’ve never talked to a person my age who is gay.”
“I’m older than you, honey, but thank you for the compliment. Yes, ask away.”
“Sorry if I sound stupid.”
“How long have you been gay?”
“I was born me. And I’m gay. So, God made me this way and I accept it.”
“Okay. Sorry. When did you know you were gay?”
“I think I’ve always known but I didn’t always know the words and language. I knew the hateful language of my church – St. Anthony’s Church. Catholics, ugh.”
“When did you tell your parents? Was it like TV and the movies with the big reveal and coming out moment?”
“Ha. You know what you see on TV and the movies? You see white boy stories. You don’t see our stories. So, forget that stuff, okay? That ain’t it for us. It just ain’t. Good for them white boys and their after school special versions of coming out.”
“How did you do it?”
“I came out to my priest when I was ten years old. That’s what I had been taught to do; talk to my priest. So, that’s what I did.”
“Oh, okay. Did the priest tell your parents than or help you tell your parents?”
“Yes and no.”
“So, he did tell them, or he didn’t tell them?”
“Why you want to know so much about the gays. You curious, Mr. Cutie?”
“I don’t know. I just want to know, and you seem nice and so…” Jamaal’s voice trailed off.
“I told my priest and my priest told me he’d show me how awful and sinful being a homosexual was so, he began having sex with me at church whenever I came to confess. He said he’d fuck the gay out of me.”
Jamaal could think of no more questions.
Craig was quiet, too.
“I’m sorry, Craig. I shouldn’t have asked so many questions.”
“Cutie, it’s fine. When I told my parents the priest molested me – because that is what that fucker did – he told them I came on to him because I was gay and he was trying to counsel the gay away and that I was now making up stories because I didn’t want my parents to know and so, even though I confessed to him he told my parents. I hate him to this day, the old fucking drunk.”
“Right. Well, the joke was on him because my parents knew or at least suspected, so they weren’t surprised at all. Well, maybe my dad was. More so than my mother. I can’t say there were “happy-happy” – Craig made air quotes with his hands – they didn’t beat me or throw me out or send me to conversion therapy or any of that shit so, here I am. I left his church and eventually found…. This.” Craig waved his hands around pointing to the kitchen.
“I like this church, too, it’s different.”
“Oh, so you noticed, huh Sherlock, what gave it away, the lesbian pastor, the gay choir, the gay couples? You’re so smart, cutie!”
“I noticed but I… I don’t know. I guess I didn’t know for certain. But, yeah, this place has a nice feel to it. A little lighter and not as heavy as a lot of churches.”
“You should join. I’ll introduce you around and make people jealous. There are some straight girls here that will like you, too.”
“I have to go to my grandfather’s church.”
“Well, if you ever want to change teams or churches, you know find me and us.”
“How much money did she raise?” Jamaal asked his grandfather as they pulled into the garage. It was past midnight and Jamaal’s homework would have to wait until the bus ride to school again.
“For the week she raised over fifty-thousand. Tonight, she raised twenty-two thousand alone.”
“Wow is right. She’s not even supposed to be a pastor and she’s out-raising us all and she has one of the largest memberships in the area. And she’s homosexual.”
“Oh, she is?” Jamaal responded, playing dumb because he wanted no part of this conversation.
“She is and her church is full of’em. It’s why I am the highest-ranking preacher that will even visit her. Her father was a great man. I never thought she’d make a pastor, much less a good pastor but, she is, and I respect that.”
Jamaal was surprised by his grandfather’s openness.
“She and her gay members need to get saved, sanctified, and filled with the holy ghost or they’re all going to bust hell wide open, ” Jamaal’s grandfather said as he got out of the car.
Jamaal sat still for a few seconds before he followed his grandfather into the house.
Later as he was in bed staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come, he thought about something Craig had said: “I was born me.”
“I was born me, too, Craig” was Jamaal’s final thought before the darkness took him.
© 2019 by Myron J. Clifton, Dear Dean Publishing. Al. Rights Reserved.