When I started writing this post, I was on my way to St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church where I was baptized as a child but stopped attending after my father died. I’ve been there for funerals but today will be the first time I’ve attended a regular church service in over 37 years, which is when Daddy died and when I stopped remembering.
I hadn’t thought much about the impact it might have on me until my brother GB expressed the difficulty he might have if he went. He was recalling all the times Deacon George Bess led the devotional service where he’d read a verse, and the congregation would then sing that verse in a distinct tune and rhythm. I was happy to see that they still do it that way, and I recorded Sunday’s devotional for singing later.
It’s after 11 pm now and a full day of churching is behind me. In addition to the morning service at St. Paul, I also attended the afternoon church anniversary service at The House of God of Lumber City where my cousin’s husband is pastor.
I just finished watching Joel Osteen on Oprah’s Lifeclass and Oprah’s Next Chapter. I watch his broadcasts regularly and had the opportunity to visit Lakewood Church while in Houston during my cross-country road trip. Instead of services at Lakewood, I worshiped that Sunday at Houston’s Fountain of Praise with author Nakia R. Laushaul.
While out sightseeing Monday, I stopped by Lakewood and discovered that it was open to visitors! I expected to run in for a few minutes, check out the place then be on my way but when I entered that empty sanctuary, the energy was so high that I had to sit and stay awhile. I felt both peaceful and exhilarated and as the energy enveloped me, all I wanted to do was revel in it. When I finally pulled myself away, I visited the bookstore where the very friendly staff invited me to attend service on my next visit to Houston. “We would love to have you, and Pastor greets all visitors after service,” they said.
Daddy’s window at St. Paul
But back to my visit to St. Paul. As I said, I didn’t know how the visit would impact me, thanks to GB, so I took a few tissues in with me. Once in the sanctuary, I tried recalling what it looked like the last time I was there but it all looked new to me. As I greeted everyone, some of their names escaped me but they all knew I was a Bess. The only emotional moment came when Cousin Romena showed me Daddy’s stained-glass window overlooking the deacons’ corner, depicting Mary and Joseph admiring the baby Jesus. That emotion was short-lived, though, because the pastor approached at that moment. I commended him on his sermon and for urging his congregation to vote, to vote early, and to vote for President Obama.
I’m thankful that I can now remember my father without the sadness that weighed me down for three decades. I can recall the night he died, but I still can’t recall the days following. And despite my efforts otherwise, I still can’t recall his funeral and can remember very little about the subsequent months and years. I’m thinking, though, that a life free of sadness, even if I’m without some memories, is a better way to honor my father than allowing the grief to dictate the course of my life. Letting go of it all wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but it is without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done.
As for the tissues I took with me to St. Paul, I used one and gave the other to my cousin Robin as we listened to his nephew, Howard Jr., deliver a very touching tribute to his father at The House of God.