Growing up, I knew where I would be every Wednesday night. It didn’t matter if I was tired, or had a bad cold, or too much homework, or if it was raining cats and dogs. No matter. We were going to prayer meeting. In our small Southern Baptist Church where my dad was the pastor, prayer meeting was the gauge of the depth of commitment of someone’s faith. Anybody could come on Sunday morning; the committed came back Sunday night, and the true saints of God came on Wednesday nights. It almost always began with a potluck supper served on white butcher paper tablecloths. You could eat food from every region in the world in the fellowship hall of our church every Wednesday night – Americanized, of course – and no self-respecting potluck was complete without an outrageous variety of Jello salads that contained mystery ingredients, brown-n-serve rolls (why were those so tasty?) and vast quantities of homemade cakes, pies, and cookies. Then came Girls in Actions (GAs) or Royal Ambassadors (RA) where girls and boys worked separately to become “kings” and “queens” through Bible memory and missionary activities while the adults listened to another sermon from the overworked pastor who hoped that somebody was listening to his hastily composed message. Choir rehearsal often followed the evening, but the highlight was the time of prayer for congregation. If attendance at Wednesday night prayer meeting was proof of true spirituality, then I grew up with saints.
There weren’t many younger couples with kids by the end of the service– they scooted out after the kids’ activities – but because I had to stay as long as my father did, I took many a late-night nap on hard pews, only vaguely listening to the older folks reciting their aches and pains needing prayer; their many “unspoken” requests, their tears falling as they whispered the names of prodigal husbands, sons and daughters. My dad patiently wrote each request in a notebook, and asked for volunteers to stand and pray for “Sister or Brother So and So’s need.” I don’t know that we saw many miraculous healings or restored marriages or returned prodigals in our little church – but what I remember most was the faithfulness of the few who gathered each week, each one earnestly seeking God. I caught their pattern of looking to Him for help, guidance, healing, and strength when they were weak. They weren’t mighty heroes of the faith as some might define heroes, and while I can’t remember many of their names, my life was marked by their Christianity.
That’s one of the reasons I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach last night when I learned of the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. I KNOW the kind of people that were in that sacred place of worship – they were probably the faithful intercessors there to support their church, their pastors and their fellow church members. They were likely the kind who could be counted on to be there regardless of weather, fatigue, illness, hardship, or cost. They were the pillars of the church. As a pastor’s daughter, and now the wife of a pastor, I wept for the loss of their beloved pastor – their shepherd committed to taking tender care of his flock. There is unfathomable sadness and anger that these committed brothers and sisters were murdered specifically because they were black. That they were murdered at a Wednesday night prayer meeting just adds one more poignant layer to the horrible crime.
Most of us are horrified and shocked and feel helpless to change systemic racism and I certainly don’t have a brilliant plan. God does. The church of Jesus Christ is the ONLY effective weapon I know of that can knock a hole in the ugliness and sin of racism. Multi-ethnic churches provide the opportunity for people to do life together – and when they do, barriers begin to fall and love can grow. My only hope is in the church – where all come together at the foot of the Cross, all equally in need of a Savior, and find forgiveness, restoration and recognition that we belong to the same Body of Christ. It’s Thursday, not Wednesday, but I’m praying.