Corn Bread, Black-Eyed Peas, and Turnip Greens
1974 – 1975
Back home, with King and Josh running alongside, I rode my bike in a neighborhood I would not have ventured into without my dogs. People stared at the strange sight of a white woman riding a bicycle in a dress with two German Shepherds, but their stares didn’t deter me. I was determined to go to church with people who shared my new faith.
At the corner of Derby and California streets, I approached a white stucco building that, even in its simplicity, seemed to illuminate the corner where it stood. Half an hour earlier members, called saints, mingled around the porch visiting, but service had already begun and the porch was empty. So, while almost 200 pounds of German Shepherds waited for me outside, I walked into Bethlehem Temple.
When I entered the congregation, people twisted in their seats to see who had come in late. Several saints sitting in the rear of the church moved aside to make room for me on a hard wooden bench against the rear wall. I wedged between them, our bodies touching slightly and placed my hands upon my lap.
A wrinkled elderly woman in a bright pink hat with violet flowers poking out of the hat like a freshly-picked bouquet stood up from her seat and shouted, “The Lord woke me up this morning.”
Nobody in the church I visited in Boise stood up shouted their business for the entire congregation to hear.
Praise the Lord! Another woman in the congregation shouted.
”And he gave me the strength to get out of bed,” the first woman continued, this time waving her right hand at the ceiling. “Glory-to-God.”
The woman sat down and another person stood up. “He got me a job the day before my rent was due.” Glory to God!
I’d arrived to the church during testimonies, a time in the service when members share their blessings with the congregation.
After testimonies, the choir sang:
We’ve come too far to turn around.
The devils on my tracks and he tries to turn me back.
But we’ve come too far to turn around.
The choir swayed; the congregation clapped; the piano pounded a lively accompaniment as the choir repeated the verse for the next twenty minutes. At that time, a solidly-build black man in his early fifties stepped up to the pulpit as the choir returned to their seats. The man gazed at us with such intensity that I self-consciously looked at my skirt to smooth a fictitious wrinkle.
“The devil may be on my back, but I’ve decided I’m not going back,” the man said. “God’s strength is my strength. He says, ‘I’m gonna let you use my strength. I’m gonna let you get up. Let you go on your journey.’ That’s the kind of God he is. Hallelujah! I thank God today.”
A lady in front of me stood to her feet and shouted, “Thank ya Jesus.”
Others followed her in spontaneous praise.
Glory to God!
The preacher’s sermon had only just begun.
I had walked into a rich world where Christ wasn’t religion, but life, a spiritual connection made alive through an unwavering faith in an unseen God. The pastor, Elder Willie J. Burns, a self-taught “holiness” preacher from Mississippi and father to 11 children, preached with conviction and fervor.
And I was a three-week old baby Christian beginning the adventure of my life.