One year I ran away from home to Hampton Ministers Conference on the Hampton campus in Virginia. Literally ran away from home. Hitched a ride with a friend going to visit her grandmother. She was returning just in time to get me back home. What a blessing!
But the additional blessing was the getaway at Hampton. I stayed on campus in a dorm and slept on a bed that felt like marble stone. But I was young then and my back could take it. And it didn’t matter because I actually didn’t sleep much because I couldn’t wait to get to church. This was my first Hampton conference and I didn’t even know why I had such a determination to be there. But I had. And I did. And here I was.
I made it to the afternoon choir rehearsal for the first morning service. I even enjoyed that. At that time all the worship took place in what became a tiny little place called Ogden Hall that eventually was used only for rehearsals and breakouts before the new conference center was built in the next decade.
So it’s Tuesday morning. It’s early. Not before day, but certainly at the crack of dawn. Prayer was to begin at 6 a.m. and I wasn’t missing a minute of anything. So I readied myself physically and spiritually. I was already on an emotional high that needed to be channeled. And I began my walk from the dorm to the worship center. I had no idea where I was going. But little did I know, that time, all I had to do was follow the crowd. Something I’d resisted most of my life. But this time, it was the thing to do.
All men, all women were headed to worship. Heads up. Bodies straight. Eyes fixed. Mouths smiling…as if there had been a conversation started that needed to be continued in concert with a whole lot of strangers. Everyone was on the way to worship. The campus was filled with preachers and pastors, teachers and leaders, singers and musicians, from all over the country…some from outside the country. Military leaders. Academic leaders. Church administrators.
When we entered Ogden Hall for service and were placed in proper seating for worship, this alto’s seat was as close as if I sat on the pulpit. The late Rev. Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr. sat nearby as did the now Right Rev. John Bryant, who was the morning preacher. So you know it was all right. The Rev. Dr. Cecelia Bryant introduced the morning preacher with these words, “There was a man sent from God. His name was John.”
The lector’s read scripture with energy and authority. The singing in that place was so incredibly rich and harmonious it was almost maddening. The depth of bass, the clarity of soprano, the resonance of alto and tenor filling center…this first timer was overwhelmed. It had all been worth it and the worship fulfilled the totality of expectation. The people had a mind to worship and the heavens joined in with consent.
It was Hampton and it was an indescribable experience.
And I thought about it this morning…nearly 40 years later…because today I have that feeling of not being able to wait to get to church. I’ve already spoken to the Lord quite a few times this morning, so it’s not about that. There’s something right when everything’s right and all hearts and minds are centered on the Lord of life.