Tuesday, June 5, 2012


This past Sunday I attended my 7th religious service for challenge no. 29: Abyssinian Baptist Church in the heart of Harlem. It just might be one of my favorites.

Abyssinian (which I can now finally pronounce) was founded in 1808 and has a powerful lineage and palpable pride emanating from its members, who will describe themselves as a "fourth generation Abyssinian" or "descendant of (famous member)."

I had been putting this particular service off because I knew there was always a line to get in (it's considered a major tourist attraction). I showed up around 9:00 and there was already a line for the 11:00 service. Abyssinian lets its members fill the church and then gives the remaining seats to the visitors. The rules were made clear: No flip-flops, no bare shoulders, no sports attire, no pictures on the inside, and no leaving before its over. I witnessed many angry camera-toting tourists being turned away. 

The gospel music was, of course, amazing. No surprises there. That's one of the main reasons for the line wrapped around the block two hours before the service.

On this particular morning the church was observing Pastor's Memorial Sunday, honoring the former pastors of the church, who reigned like kings in their tenure and are still the most highly regarded aspect of the church, with the exception of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The sermon was delivered by a guest Reverend, Sharon Williams.

Rev. Williams was electric, booming, her arms working in sync with her voice, punctuating those particularly passionate points. I was captivated by her. She commanded that room with her presence, her humor (she was damn funny), her honesty. No word passed through her lips that she didn't believe in with every ounce of her being.

Her sermon revolved around the idea of AUTHORITY:

It is the nature of authority which makes it a matter of contention because people want to fight over who has it. Authority is not power. Authority is the right to USE power. When Jesus came and started healing and performing miracles, the question was not whether he COULD do those things but who AUTHORIZED him to do those things. Who gave him the right to use such power?

Well, God. Obviously.

The authority in which Jesus stands is the mark of the nails on his resurrected body. The authority in which Christians stand is the mark of the nails on our resurrected bodies. A Christian stands in authority to comfort those afflicted by sin and afflict those comfortable with sin.

Near the end of the sermon, she said this: I AM NOT SCARED OF ANYTHING ANYMORE.

As I wallowed in the silence that followed, I realize that this statement was one of the most powerful statements I've ever heard. I've never heard anyone say those words and mean it more than Rev. Williams meant it. Can you imagine the freedom she must feel, not being afraid? It radiated from her. I was all the way up in the balcony and I could see it in her expression.

And at that moment she inspired me to somehow remove all the fear from my life. Now I just have to figure out how.

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