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Oakfield Union Missionary Baptist Church…

Posted by on August 3, 2016
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Oakfield is a small church with big plans.

OAKFIELD BAPTIST CHURCH. I’m going to tell you about this little church in the deep South. I’m going to show it to you and introduce you to the people who worship there. I’ll take you to their Sunday afternoon potluck dinner and listen with you to the music they make. It’s fascinating. But before we even set foot inside, let me tell you why I was there. Why a Caucasian guy like me, raised by Ivy League parents in an affluent neighborhood ever found his way inside. Because you see I was the only white guy at this all Black church. And I’d be surprised if another guy like me had ever set foot inside the place. So bare with me. I’ll take you inside in just a moment.

FOR ME, IT’S ALL ABOUT MEETING THE PEOPLE. We left home in San Diego and began our Adventure in June of 2013. But I’d given a good deal of thought about the plan long before then. Why did this “Great American Adventure” hold such appeal? Was I looking for something? Did I merely want to see the highways and byways in America? Just what was it that I was searching for? And why did it matter? My life had always been about setting goals and working to achieve them. Our Adventure should not be an exception. What, down deep, was my goal as we began our journey across America. I came to some conclusions and I wrote about them in the “Welcome Aboard” section of my blog. I certainly wanted to drive those back country roads. I certainly wanted to see America. But there was something far more important. Meeting the people. The folks whose paths I’d never crossed. The folks who really are this great country we call home.

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A glimpse inside the Oakfield Baptist Church.

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We arrived about 2:45 for a 3 o’clock service. By the time the little hand on the clock clicked to the number three, the place was packed.

HERE’S WHAT I WROTE. “I want to make a difference. I want to meet the people who live here. My story will  include their stories. What do they believe? Why? How do their life experiences compare to mine? What are their hopes and dreams?  If I can gather and record the thoughts and feelings of these folks I will have achieved my goal.” Those were my goals. And I’ve always known that if you don’t have goals you’ll never achieve them. I’ve already introduced you to lots of interesting Americans. In fact, if you click on the “People” tab on the top menu,  it’ll take you those folks once again. Give it a try. You’ll remember them, I’m sure of it.

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Nathaniel Jones. His friends call him Nate. He directs a Christian band called “Pensacola Men of God.”

LET’S GO INSIDE. I’d met Nathaniel Jones just a few days ago. He was washing and waxing our motorhome at Pensacola RV park. He struck me as a kind, caring man. When in conversation I mentioned my recent illness, he wanted to know more. So I told him about it and about the miracle I’d experienced four months later. He almost cried when I described my illness and he beamed and raised his hand, “Praise God,” when I told him of the miracle. He invited me to visit his church. His music group, “Pensacola Men of God” would be singing next Sunday. Would I come? I didn’t even hesitate. After all, my goal is to meet the people. And meet them I did, darn near every one of them. There was Brother Harrison. I also me Sister Lula Daniels. And of course Reverend T. Roosevelt Rich and First Lady Lillie Rich.  The experience was reminiscent of the one we had when we were invited to the home of the Yoders, an Amish family in Ohio. They welcomed me and embraced me. They shared their music and their food with me. And all of us basked in God’s glory. It didn’t matter a hoot that they were black and I am white. I was comfortable from the moment I arrived. They were too.

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Sister Jasmean Hughes-Hamilton sang for us and boy did she belt it out in the name of Jesus! Amen! 

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Pastor T. Roosevelt Rich.

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The Pastor’s Mama sat in the first pew. Her seat was reserved. Mrs. Rich had 12 children. Roosevelt is number 3. His Mama told me she’s particularly proud of him because he was “the bad boy” of all her kids when he was growing up. “But just look at him now,” she said. Praise God! Amen!

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First Lady Lillie and Roosevelt, Jr. had seats in a separate part of the church. Lillie was escorted to her seat where a cushion had been placed on her already-overstuffed chair to assure her comfort during the long service and further to distinguish her from the other ladies in the congregation. I’d guess that Lillie is at least 26 years younger than Pastor Rich. She seems to have a good gig at the church. 

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About 2 hours into the service, the First Lady got a little bored. Not to worry, she had her brand spankin’ new “iPhone 6 S Plus” at hand so she could play Candy Crush or read her email. I don’t think anyone noticed but me. The reach of my long lens is amazing. Remember last year in Maine when I got a glimpse of Barbara Bush at her 90th birthday celebration at the Bush Compound in Kennybunkport? Same thing here but much closer range.

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This darling little girl was in the pew in front of us, with her mother. But as all kids at that age do, she stood on the seat and faced me much of the service. I must confess that I made some funny faces just to keep her attention. She was cute as a button. She and I were smitten by the end of the day. And her mama let me hold her up in the air for a while after the service. We both liked that, a lot!

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I just about asked her mom if Florence and I could take her daughter out for ice cream. We’d be happy to bring her home.

PENSACOLA MEN OF GOD. The goal of the group is to “touch God’s people through the Ministry of Music.” Remember, if you don’t have goals you’ll never achieve them. They strive to meet their goals by singing at church and by broadcasting their message on local radio channel WRAC each Sunday morning. Nate sings and dances. He’s the main man. His group includes a drummer with a huge set of drums and  a fellow who plays keyboard and hand-held percussion instruments like the triangle and washboard. Others play electric guitars. And the whole show is blasted at the audience by a powerful sound system!

THE SERMON. Just like the music, the sermon was delivered via that same powerful sound system. It was loud and as it began I glanced at my watch. The service was already running a little over an hour and a half and we were just getting started. None of us was bored. I’m just saying it was going to be a lot longer service than I’d planned on attending. I wasn’t going to get that fried chicken any time soon! But here we go: the Pastor read scripture from various books, chapters and verses of the Bible about letting go and moving on from a past relationship, past disappointments, or past sin. He reminded us that we should not fret and we should move on with our lives. “Don’t fret, keep moving” he shouted at least 25 times during his sermon. Remember, God has a plan for you. His plan for you is not in the past it’s in the future. Christians are a new creation through Christ. Your old life is gone. Now it’s time to move forward. Amen. “That’s right” shouted back several parishioners. After all I’ve been through during the last eight months, his words had a special meaning for me and it’s okay that those words have been repeating themselves in my head ever since Sunday afternoon. I agree with him.

WHAT ABOUT MY ATHEIST FRIENDS.  John, one of my attorney friends whom I’ve known and respected for the last forty years is an atheist. And my old high school friend Diane is also an atheist. She’s one of the brightest people I’ve known in my entire life. We differ in our religious beliefs and also, big time, on politics. I get along great with each of them. I respect their beliefs and I think they respect mine. After all, the freedom to hold and express one’s beliefs without fear of persecution is a cherished right we enjoy as Americans. Our friendships are solid. It’s okay that we disagree. We just usually talk about things other than religion and politics. I’ve always enjoyed John’s company and I’m hoping to see Diane when I visit San Diego at the end of the year. Not a problem.

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Little did I know that I’d be standing at the pulpit before the service was over!

THE PASTOR SURPRISED ME. As the service approached its conclusion, the Pastor announced that the next order of business was the testimonial that all had been awaiting. Those in the congregation nodded as he said this. They appeared revived and anxious to hear this testimonial. But I was shocked when he said it would be from Brother Greg. I looked behind me and quickly all around the seats. Nobody by that name seemed to be responding and I concluded that Nate must have told the church folks about the miracle in my life. So without giving it a second thought I took the stage behind the podium, thanked everyone for their welcome and proceeded to give them the short version of my story. The applause was almost thunderous when I concluded by saying I no longer needed dialysis and that as they could see I didn’t need a wheel chair or even a cane. They seemed inspired by the story of my experience and I was glad I’d been able to inspire them. And don’t think for a minute that I’m not a walking miracle, because I am!

POTLUCK DINNER. After the service, which finally concluded almost three hours after it began, the food was ready in the recreation room behind the church. The Pastor and First Lady sat at the head table but most all the rest of us took our food home. We were exhausted, but I think God was okay with our departure after such a long afternoon. Whether the fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans and lemon pound cake was enjoyed at the church or at home, it was good eating!

THANKS TO ALL OF YOU. Thanks again, churchgoers, for including me. Thanks also to you guys for following my blog. And to you I say,  “Be good to yourself today. Hug your kids and do a random act of kindness. Because even though you’re sure you know what tomorrow will bring, you don’t.” My story is ample evidence to the contrary. Please join us again soon. I like it when you respond, comment or otherwise let me know that my posts have been informative. Or that they’ve made you laugh. Or cry. Or that they’ve given you some ideas about your own Journey. Or you may have some suggestions for us about places you’ve visited. Feel free to comment or contact me. Thanks, I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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I’ll continue my story next time.

 

 

4 Responses to Oakfield Union Missionary Baptist Church…

  1. Natasha

    Very well done. you captured the feeling in words. Write that book!

  2. Kat

    This is the first of your blogs that I have read. I knew you would be a good writer, and I will be disappointed if there isn’t a book that comes out of all the experiences you have had. I can hardly wait to ‘catch up’ by reading more of your blog. Just need several uncomplicated days … I’ll find them soon.

    What a journey you are on!

  3. Greg Alford

    I’m flattered, I really am. I started this blog at the suggestion of my wife, who knew after being married to an attorney (word merchant) for 25 years that I’d go nuts on a rainy day without some indoors hobby. So she suggested a blog.I hardly knew what that was because while I was practicing law I always had “people” to figure out computer issues and explain tech-type things to me. My time was better spent being in the courtroom. But, fast-forward to retirement and now I have to do these things myself. This is my first effort and your complements make me smile!

  4. Annie Skarie

    this is my kind of church if I went to church. Have no denomination, but this church sound great. Don’t know if I could go for 3 hours, but I’d give it a try.

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