Everyone prays with their eyes closed. Except me. I watch brown faces, grimaced in earnest prayer, pleading to God for deliverance from hardships: unemployment or unhappiness or overdue bills. It’s the First Sunday of the month, Communion Sunday, and we’re all dressed in snow white or muted ivory or shy alabaster. It is what my church does. It is tradition from as long as I can remember. So I don’t question. I do it.
Etched on the front of a wood table are the words “Do this in remembrance of me.” On top lay two fake brass plates topped with crosses. Inside of the plates are crackers and grape juice. We use grape juice because no one drinks alcohol or rather no one is supposed to drink alcohol at this church. I can’t speak for the church less than fifty feet from us or the one across the street less than two blocks away.
A few scriptures are plastered on old pockmarked walls. Next to them are purple banners with gold lettering displaying the sacred names of the Lord, the Jehovah names. Misshapen brown water stains mar the ceiling. And I wait for God (whatever I believe Him or Her or Them to look like) or Jesus (I know what He looks like), but no one appears. Everyone opens their eyes and we eat the crackers and grape juice. Maybe God prefers cookies and milk like Santa Claus.
We are surrounded by unanswered prayers, but still come through those doors day after day, week after week, year after year. Every prayer meeting, bible study and choir rehearsal we pilgrimage from our houses to Chicago’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, where our church sits, amidst blocks saturated in sunshine and slaughter. We sometimes hear occasional gunshots during Friday Night Praise Service, but still worship, still leave the doors unlocked and hope whoever comes through them means us no harm.
“God a keeper, baby. He provides for us,” says Evangelist Carolyn. “He always does.”
I don’t wonder how I got to this small storefront church. My father arrived in his early 20s. He said he found something missing his whole life: people who believed he was a better person than he actually was. He and my mom were married, and he brought her. And they stayed. My brother and I learned there are 66 books in the bible…