February 20, 2011

I just got home from Longstreet an hour or so ago. …

Several years ago, when I interviewed Deacon Shorty Floyd, then 81 years old, for the “People In My Town” CD, he shared with me that he could not read. (To learn more of him, and to hear him speak and sing, see the blog for July 29, 2010.) All through our conversation, he quoted (sometimes with charming imperfection) passage after passage of scripture.
“So, Deacon Floyd, given that you can’t read, how do you now scripture so well?”
“I been going (gwan) to Longstreet Church since 1943.”
“Where is it?”
“Just ‘round the corner (konah) on 208.”
“The little brick building.”
“Can I visit y’all sometime?”
“The doors (doze) of our church is built on welcome hinges. Whosoever shall, may come.”
A few weeks later, I went to Longstreet for the first time. The building is small, small enough to fit in many of the fellowship hall’s and sanctuaries that I’ve sung in over the years. It is small and simple, but adequate.
This month, if my memory serves me correctly, makes three years since that occasion, and three years that Longstreet has been my church home. On first and third Sundays, we have only Sunday School class, from 9:45 till 11. On second Sundays, we have 8:00 a.m. service, followed by breakfast and then Sunday School. On fourth Sunday, we have Sunday School at 9:45 followed by long service that goes until about 2:00. On first and thirds, there are only about 15 or 20 people in attendance. On second and fourth, there might be 75 or a hundred.
Most of our singing is a capella and the repertoire consists of very old, simple, easy to learn songs (“let it be real, let it be real/ let it be real, Lord, let it be real/ everything I do for the Master, let it be real”. … Longstreet has rendered me woefully ignorant of the popular worship songs that get sung in most churches these days.)

Someone asked me recently why I choose to go to Longstreet. My answer goes something like this:
– In a small town, where it’s hard to do anything ‘cross cultural,’ and where the danger of defaulting to the comfortable, the predictable, and the familiar is extreme (just as it is in big cities), being a white guy in an African-American church stretches me in a healthy way. Longstreet, in some ways, helps to keep me from stagnation.
– I know how ‘white’ church feels, looks, sounds (though there is admittedly a wide divergence of expression in our congregations and denominations), and I want to learn of Jesus from ones who see Him from a somewhat different perspective. Longstreet is a new lens on the Gospel for me, largely because of the life experience of members there (especially the old ones), and much that I witness there is challenging, refreshing, and though-provoking. Don’t get me wrong; it is as flawed as any other fellowship, but it is flawed, and praiseworthy, in ways different than ‘church’ as I’ve known it for most of my life.
– Mine is a community and ours’ are churches (like communities and churches everywhere) in need of racial affection and friendship. Longstreet allows me, in a very, very small way, to be an agent of those ends. And given that black folk in our area caught the blunt end of discrimination in decades past, it just seems to me that there is an obligation and privilege on me and my kind to take steps across the divide.
– The pastor, and now good friend, Wilford Brownlee, is a gifted teacher who honors scripture, loves Christ, loves his wife and obviously cares for our small congregation. His pulpit is not a political platform or personal fiefdom, but a place for declaring the Gospel, and he does that faithfully.
– Not least, by now, the people love me and I love them. Our shared worship and laughter and stories and singing have grown into the sort of neighborliness that, it seems to me, ought always to exist among people who, despite differences, share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.”

Apostle Paul, who could be so blunt at times in his critique of the church, seemed, nonetheless, to have an abiding gratitude for the believers he served and worked with. He had to cross a ‘dividing wall of hostility’ to reach them, but, at days end, he considered them his “glory and joy”. … Sometimes, today being one of them, I think I get a taste of how he feels.