Sunday, July 19, 2009

Easter with the Baptists

In a world full of spectacular scenery, incredible works of art and amazing architecture, the real payoff when traveling is the people you meet.

Like the smiling Costa Rican boys swimming in crocodile-infested waters in the Tortuguero Canals. Or the retired cancer researcher running a bed-and-breakfast on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Or the warm Baptist congregation in suburban Washington D.C. where we spent one memorable Easter Sunday.

The Friday night before Easter we checked in to a small hotel in downtown Washington. The night clerk, overhearing our question about where to enjoy good gospel music, not only invited us to her church, but two days later drove 35 miles each way to pick us up and return us.

In a week inside and around the Beltway the highlight of our stay was two hours at the Providence St. John Baptist Church in Marlboro, Maryland.

We two strangers from Idaho were embraced by an African-American congregation of some 300, starting early with Sunday School and extending right through an after-church gathering for snapshots and conversation. In between, a gospel choir – complete with a thumping electric base guitar, drum set and lively keyboards – sent us out of our seats a dozen times.

The climax was a rousing extemporaneous sermon by 28-year-old Rev. Phillip Pointer, who had already delivered one sermon on the other side of the Potomac earlier in the day. Speaking in a natural iambic pentameter, he brought the congregation to its feet with inspiring words delivered with passion and charisma.

The Rev. Pointer spoke not of fear and damnation, but of love and hope in a time where both are sorely needed. We were mesmerized as he walked along the edge of the stage behind the pulpit, quoting scripture from memory and flowing seamlessly from one thought to the next.

That night in a misty rain, we walked through the monuments of the National Mall, ending at the Lincoln Memorial. It was a perfect way to end a day that had started so joyfully.

We’ve visited Caribbean beaches, walked Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, hiked the Canadian Rockies and enjoyed the blues in Boston. In Washington, we viewed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, dined on the top floor of the National Press Club building and saw Chinese artifacts thousands of years old. We walked more than a dozen miles up and down the National Mall.

In prior visits I've met President and Mrs. Clinton, heard George H.W. Bush speak, met with senators and congressmen, even toured the White House when it was run by a guy known as LBJ.

But nothing topped the Sunday service in a humble Baptist church on the outskirts of our nation’s capital, at the invitation of our new friend, Emily Dolford. No, we weren't converted -- we still spend our Sundays a comfortable distance from the nearest church. We'll not soon forget, however, the welcome we received among Emily's congregation.

No comments:

Post a Comment