Although I have the feeling that Bethel AME is always alive, attending on the first Sunday after the election of Barack Obama was electric and joyous and buoyant. There was great rejoicing throughout the congregation, and quite a bit of clapping, and several standing ovations, beginning with the minister saying, “I would like the be the first to congratulate president-elect Obama,” but he was careful not to gloat. He specifically said that if this was the election outcome the congregation assembled had wished for, they must not gloat–but rather, he said, pray for those who were feeling low. “I know,” he said, eyes twinkling, “If the election had gone the other way, I would need them to be praying for me.”
I confess I was still in my own little world during most of this service, trying to find equilibrium still just hours after the theft, digesting the Quaker service.
Bethel AME rolls. The band was playing keyboard, drums and jazz organ when we came in. They like to sing, and the choir comes and goes throughout the service. There was a special performance by three of the youth, one a singer, and two liturgical mime/dancers, accompanied by the choir. This is probably latently racist of me, but I found myself surprised that two young black men were performing mime/dance. It was refreshing to see youth engaged in the service.
The congregation, as one would expect, is largely African American. Our Gra asked if there were enough African Americans in Spokane to have a congregation (coming from Baltimore, our 1.7% makes it seem Spokane is just white). For the record, there are several traditionally African American congregations in Spokane.
Near the end of the service, they do a three-tiered altar call. I think this (the altar call) happens weekly (based on the bulletins available online). The minister asked everyone to hold hands, and to say, in repeated clauses (like repeating one’s wedding vows), a version of the sinner’s prayer. Then the minister bade anyone who’d said it for the first time to come to the altar. “We just want to love on you,” he said, “Nothing scary.” The congregation clapped as folks went to the altar. Then, (the third tier), if anyone wanted to join Bethel AME, for them to come down to the altar, “Because you might find another good church, but you won’t find a better church!” (the congregation roared), “Because Bethel means the house of the Lord! And it’s good to be in God’s house, isn’t it, Church? Because here, everyone is someone, and Jesus is the Main Attraction!”
At the altar, those who came forward were met by choir members and elders and ushers. Many returned to their seats with another person (I think these were the folks who were joining the church — they were filling out forms). Although there were probably a half dozen people still at the altar, the service continued with announcements and music. There’s a weird orchestrated chaos that dominated the service. It wasn’t a production, but there was order to it. There’s something refreshing about that.
I was really sorry Michael missed it, so we’ll probably be doubling back on that one (actually both the AME and the Quakers–he wanted to go to both).