I was 26. I had never been to a Protestant Church before. I didn’t even know they were Christians. After the event, I knew they were more Christian than us Catholics would ever become. They said Jesus’ name more times in the four-hour service than I had ever heard in a few dozen Catholic masses. The Bible was opened and thumbed through so much even I as a Catholic had the order of the books by the time we were through.
Evelyn was an overweight, white woman, inching towards retirement. She has been in the department for over 15 years, and was the one who always gave the orientation to new folks. As the youngest, straight, and single person in the department, most people took it upon themselves to mother me, setting me up with an assortment of single men in other departments who were supposedly always checking me out. Of course, they also thought this earned them a play-by-play when I returned from these almost-always doomed dates. The men they picked out for me were not used to women with higher ed degrees so it almost always ended in them realizing that I was not the kind of woman they could boss around.
Evelyn took charge of my spiritual health. she came in each morning with a “message” for me, and left notes copied from Daily Word, on my desk. When we ate lunch together, she talked to me about Jesus, and how I could find the perfect man if I prayed and came to church with her.
In those days of being a grad student, dinner invitations were hard commodities to come by; I continually ignored the implications of the numerous dinner dates I had accepted from Evelyn. One day, after dinner, she said she was going to go into church for a pre-revival prayer meeting. I ought to think about coming. How could I refuse her after a full stomach? I went along thinking it couldn’t be that long since we both worked at 7am the next morning. I drove because because I figured I could escape easily if I had my car with me.
I pulled in next to Evelyn. I looked around for the steeple and stained class windows. All I saw were signs for the laundromat, Jeanie’s Fast Food Pizza, and a grimy “Check-into-Cash” store. Not finding even an ornate wooden door, I gave up and waited for Evelyn to descend from her 1998 Buick. The sound of bells snapped me out of my confusion. Evelyn had opened one of the numerous glass doors that were sparsely labeled, enclosing dimly lit interiors.
The bells alerted everyone of our arrival and we entered into a welcoming gathering of a handful of church members who were assembled early. My eyes were scanned the room frantically. Not a single black person in those assembled. As if to reassure me, Evelyn whispered, “there’s more coming” and then nodded as if to convince herself about this fact.
The door swung open causing the bells on the door to announce the arrival of another church member. In walked a tall dark woman. She was about 5’11” with long mahogany colored locs. “That’s our pastor,” Evelyn said as she proceeded to head to the podium where the other members were gathering around the lady with the locs. By this time, more people had arrived and we had quickly filled out the room. The pastor took the stage and welcomed all her members by name, all 25 of them, that is. Then she asked for all members who brought visitors to stand and introduce their visitors. Evelyn took great pleasure in extolling my virtues. I was blushing by the time, she told everyone what I needed prayers for. A God-fearing husband. Mortified, I sunk back into my seat and tried to concentrate on hearing the other visitors introduced.
The pastor stood up from her seat on the stage, adjusted her lapel mic and descended the steps. “It is a great day! God is good all the time?! People?” “And all the time, God is good,” the room resounded.
She walked up and down the middle aisle as she preached the message for the evening. Today, waiting on God, waiting on the appointed time, but preparing yourself for this appointed time. The revival in a few days was seen as a chance to cleanse one’s heart and prepare the self. After the message, she asked for those touched to come forward and let the whole church know if they were willing to take Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Five people walked up and they were examined and then the church was asked to pray over them.
Then it happened. The languages I had heard talked about. The description of speaking in tongues could never fully do justice to the actual event. They prayed. I listened. I couldn’t make out one single word aside from Jesus. I stood wide-eyes and flabbergasted. I quickly averted my eyes when I caught the pastor looking at me with slight amusement dancing in her eyes. She nodded to me as if to say it was okay to be a skeptic this one time. That she also felt that way her first time. Perhaps I was making it all up, but she seemed to be looking at me, every time I tried to steal a glance at her and the activity in the room.
At the end of the service, I took her outstretched hand. “Sabrina” she murmured. “Nana,” I said blushing. Why was she having such an effect on me? “Pleased to meet you. Be sure and come again.” She kept my hands cupped in hers. “Evelyn, I like this one. God has a message for her. Bring her back.” She ordered as she let go of my hand slowly caressing my palm. “Goodnight pastor,” people chimed as they walked past us. “Thank you,” I said not making any promises.
As we walked out, I made out the chipped paint advertising this room as the north branch of the HR Block Tax office. Aggressively painted over this, though not successfully, was the new label: Jesus Christ Light and Love Revival Church. I wondered how this loc-wearing, almost positively, queer Black woman came to be the pastor of this white congregation. There had to be more to this story.