By Minnie Lamberth
You could think of January 6 as the anniversary of the day I didn’t make it to church. Or, at least, that was the day I didn’t make it to First Baptist in Montgomery, the church I now attend.
Backing up a little… I had grown up as a member of a Baptist church, which was followed by a few teen/post-teen years of not being a church person. My college roommate and her boyfriend, however, were church people. When I was a student at Huntingdon, sometimes I went to church with them. Once we went to the older Methodist congregation on Dexter Avenue. I was 20; I could see there were a lot of older people there. Another time we visited a small church on Mulberry Street. We wondered if we had been the first visitors in a long while. It was as if every person there greeted us as miracles out of the sky.
Another time we visited Frazer; they were serving communion, or the Lord’s Supper, at the altar rail that day. As we stood in line waiting our turn for the rail, I whispered to my roommate, “Ask for a table for three.”
At other times, I visited First Methodist, especially on those occasions when Huntingdon or my sorority had organized church visits – like baccalaureate or “AOII church day” or whatever it would have been called.
It seemed to me, during all this time, I was a practicing Methodist. That is to say, I was practicing to be Methodist. I figured that once I decided to return to a church in my adult years, that’s the denomination I would choose. Then adulthood came.
In my first apartment in my adult life, I lived in a gated community on the Southern Boulevard. By gated I mean it’s the kind of place that now has bars on the windows. During those days, sometimes I went with a colleague to Aldersgate Methodist. I thought that might be the place I joined, when I joined. We also visited Frazer a few times. That friend had grown up Methodist, so no Baptist churches were on her list, nor did I have any plans myself to visit with the Baptists. Again, Methodist was my plan; that’s what I was thinking. Or Episcopalian. That would be neat, if I knew how to pull that off.
In any case, this is how I didn’t make it to First Baptist Church on January 6, 1988.
During these days, a technology salesman was frequently visiting the ad agency where I worked as a copywriter. By technology I mean fax machine. We didn’t have computers yet. The copywriters had gotten word processors some time before the agency ventured into fax machines. These were basically typewriters with a mechanism that allowed typists to save their work to a 5 ¼”-inch floppy disk. The remarkable thing is that we could make simple changes without having to retype the whole page of copy. Amazing.
Now came the fax machine. That meant a salesman was coming by and telling us the benefits of fax machines and giving us some trial runs on equipment and showing us how to fax a sheet of copy that would, in moments, appear at another destination. Big times!
Before the fax machine, the art directors called the typesetting shop when copy was ready for typesetting. A young man drove over to our office, found a parking place on Commerce Street, rode up the elevator 12 floors, picked up a sheet of paper and drove it back to his shop by the same route. But now times were changing. We were getting a fax machine, and because of that, the fax machine salesman kept dropping by the office – you know, just to check on things, to make sure we were liking what we were seeing and to make sure our supply of fax paper was holding up.
One day after a quick drop-in, the fax salesman said he needed to head out because he had to go to choir practice. What? This being December in Montgomery in the late ‘80s, could this mean only one thing? Could he be in the Living Christmas Tree at First Baptist Church?
I had been to these performances twice before. Tickets, though free, were hard to get before the new sanctuary was built, more than doubling the seating. During those previous two years, my sister had had a source who had since moved out of town. So I asked the fax salesman, “Are you in the Living Christmas Tree?”
He said, “Yes, I am.”
I said, “Can you get me tickets?”
“I think so,” he said. “Let me check.” The next day a couple of tickets were in my inbox, and I went to the performance. That night, I heard the line, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin in me.”
Well, you know how being in a church and listening to worshipful music will make you start thinking things that you don’t think about, say, checking out at the A&P, or visiting the newly-renovated and expanded Montgomery Mall, or eating potato skins at Kat ‘N Harri’s, or being at any other place I might have found myself in the ‘80s. I had a moment of insight where I thought: “There’s not really any peace on earth beginning in me. I should change that. I’d like to change that.”
Seemed to me, a church experience might help, and maybe getting in that choir would be a way to get into a church for real. I did, after all, used to sing songs during rush when I was an AOII in college. Plus, if I were in the choir, surely I could get tickets to the Living Christmas Tree the next year. It all just made sense, in the way things make sense when you’re in a church and listening to worshipful music.
So the next time I saw our fax salesman, I asked him about being in the choir, and he invited me to the next rehearsal on Wednesday, January 6. We arranged that, at the appointed time, he would meet me on the front steps on South Perry Street and take me to the choir studio.
Done deal, except that I didn’t want to go meet a bunch of strangers without freshening up a bit after a day’s work. By now I lived in an apartment in Cloverdale, so when the clock struck 5 p.m., I left my downtown office to rush home for a moment, then planned to get back to my rendezvous on the church steps.
Unfortunately, out of nowhere, at the corner of Hull and Grove, a car came crashing into the side of my car. I didn’t see this coming at all. The damage to my car was extensive, and there were the police to summon and insurance details to record. In this time before cell phones, I suppose a police officer made the contact for me, but a colleague from work was soon there. I remember being a little embarrassed to make this request, but it had to be said: “Our fax salesman is standing on the steps in front of First Baptist on South Perry Street. Would you drive there and tell him I’m not coming to choir tonight?” So she did.
The next day, our fax salesman called to check on me, and he did one of those good Baptist things, “Well, hey… would you like to come to Sunday school?” So I went and that’s how I ended up at a church I didn’t plan to attend which, to this day, I have been unable to leave.
Over time, I’ve thought, “I should try something else. You know, another church, another denomination.” I did try once or twice, but the other places didn’t work out. Just wasn’t meant to be, and I figure that’s a fact.
Some years back, I discovered a journal entry that I’d written in 1978 when I was still growing up at home in Alex City. The entry said: “I dreamed I was in a big church in Montgomery. No matter how hard I tried, I could not escape. I don’t remember any people or I didn’t recognize them. There were people in the lobby getting Cokes. I think I got my purse with the pretense of getting a Coke, but I escaped.”
Yes, the old “just getting a Coke” pretense. That sounds like something I would do.
In any case, that may have been my one and only true dream of prophecy, an insight into my unknown future. Unlike that dream, however, I do remember a lot of people I met in a big church in Montgomery.
Some of these stories I’ve be telling here: http://minnielamberth.com/church-stories
People I Met at Church is a continuing series by Minnie Lamberth. Originally posted January 2013 at www.minnielamberth.com.