Some children know from the moment they’re born what profession they want to pursue. Or so it seems. And they do just that. It’s as if it is woven into the fabric of their being. Well we know it is, but what about the rest of us. Those who sort of wander around trying to figure it out.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know the one thing I wanted to do. The problem was that I wanted to do everything. And I never could decide so I really did try so many things. And once the challenge was gone and I got bored, I usually moved on to the next thing. Lousy resume. Pitiful retirement plan. Great life. I learned many skills, networked with the best of the best and made lifelong friends along the way.
But there was one thing I was always sure of. Not what I wanted to do, but what I wanted to be. From maybe eight years old.
I wanted to be Miss Vic Clark.
Now if you didn’t grow up or worship in the community of Waverly in Baltimore Maryland in the 50s and 60s, you have no idea who Miss Vic Clark was. And I know very little about her personal life. And she wasn’t the only one who captured my attention. The group included Mrs. Rida Bell Billups and Mrs. Hodges, whose first name escapes me this morning.
And with the intriguing name of Rida Bell for competition, for some reason it’s Miss Vic Clark who personalized for me the woman I wanted to become.
These women were lifelong members of my home church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Baltimore. They had gotten up in age and lived with their children because living alone was no longer an option. It’s been so many years since they went to heaven that their faces are no longer in my memory.
But their souls are vibrant with me even now as I am probably the age they were when I worshiped with them as a child.
So everyone didnt’ have cars back in the day and they certainly wouldn’t have been driving because they were, by this time, showing the signs of aging even more so than we do.
They weren’t able to get to church every Sunday because they had to rely on their children, many of whom by then belonged to other churches.
But on communion Sunday – every second Sunday – at 3 p.m. – there was great rejoicing on the corner of 32nd and Barclay streets. The Franklins lived next door. Deacon Melvin Norman, his wife Elsie and his daughter Helen walked from their house a few doors down. Mrs. Bruce Branch and her son, Donald, walked down. We waved to Miss Betty Williams as we passed her house, finishing our nine block walk. Deacon George Grave and his wife, Louise, and their 10 children came from the opposite direction. Trustee Nick Payne and his wife, Lucille, also. As did the children of the Wells family – Barbara, Lloyd and Ernest.
All the saints gathered in for communion and friends saw friends they hadn’t seen since the month before.
And there was great rejoicing.
The older women embraced worship with incredible joy.
When they reached the door of the sanctuary, tears began to stream down their faces.
The shout was as likely as not to burst forth even before the formal beginning of the service. Not always.
Sometimes they actually contained themselves until the testimonial period that preceded the service. People talked about how good God had been to them since the last time they were there. Some folks told their 60-year-old salvation story once again, with the kind of energy that made it sound as if it had happened the day before. Some told it so often we children mouthed it simultaneously.
Rochelle Hodges’ mother would cry. Now she came more often because she lived up the street from the church and could still walk. She was also an usher as long as she could stand. But she always cried with joy when she reached the door.
Mrs. Rida Bell Billups, who wore the biggest, sharpest hats I’d ever seen, would lean over as she sat. She’d sway her head to the music as if to show off her hat. And she did this thing with her feet that I’d never heard, neither before nor since. She’d alternate between the toe and heels – yes two inch heels – of her shoes, and make these tapping sounds that created their own percussion section to accompany whatever song she was offering as the prelude to her testimony. A signature piece of hers was, “I know I been changed. I know I been changed. I know I been changed. The angels in heaven done signed my name.” And after that part got really good to her, she’d launch into the familiar “I looked at my hands and they looked new. The angels in heaven done signed my name. I looked at my feet and they did too. The angels in heaven done signed my name. I started to walk and I had a new walk. The angels in heaven done signed my name. I started to talk and I had a new talk. The angels in heaven done signed my name.”
And everyone knew the words. And everyone joined in because they shared the same sentiment of the assurance of salvation because each of their names had likewise been recorded in the Lamb’s book of life.
And Miss Vic Clark would stand and wait her turn, clutching the bench in front for support. She’d move her feet as if to see if maybe she could still cut a step or two. And she’d tell of the goodness of the Lord who’d kept her and healed her and filled her heart with great joy. Down through the years, she’d say, “He’s been my savior. He’s been my friend.” And like many others, Mrs. Bessie Dawson, Mrs. Hattie Childs – she’d always declare, she wouldn’t take nothing for her journey.
My sentiment too. So thankful for the journey that began as a little girl listening to women who had such a love for Jesus that it fell on me and made me want nothing more than to know Jesus in the same intimate way that they knew him. Of this I was always sure. And I hope I make my love relationship with Jesus feel just as compelling and irresistible for the children who share my life. I hope it gives them the same kind of hunger and thirst, the same kind of desire for the Desire of all nations.
Because, surely, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey.