Making the move away from Cleveland brought me face to face with a decision I had
been postponing for some years: the choice between singing and dancing. Having trained to the level of “young professional” in both performance arts, I had come to the point where one of them had to predominate. Louis was furious with me. “But you are a born dancer,” he cried. Although I understood his sentiment, I was being forced to choose. For two decades I had been happy performing both art forms. At first, when my singing teachers pointed out to me that I’d have to abandon dance if I were going to study singing seriously, I resisted their advice. Wasn’t there a way to do both? Surely there was. But no one—neither my dance teachers, nor my singing teachers—agreed with my youthful opinion.
To smooth things over with Louis, I invited him to come to church on my final Sunday.
I would be singing a solo and thought perhaps his hearing me sing might help convince him. I was delighted when he agreed. “I think you’ll like Mt. Zion,” I said.
Sunday morning, Louis showed up on time at my house and we walked together to Mt.
Zion under a beautiful August sky, talking all the way there. As we came upon the church I could see George, Carol, Millicent, and other members of the Chancel Choir. Other Mt. Zion members were parking, shaking hands, accepting and giving hugs and kisses on the cheeks, and of course, making a beeline for the door. Getting a good seat is a must in the black church. You have to feel the preacher and for that you need to be as close as possible. After getting Louis settled, I asked him to save me a seat. “I’ll join you after the Anthem,” I said. I then sped off to the basement for morning choir rehearsal.
It was the six-month anniversary of the installation of Mt. Zion’s fabulous pipe organ,
completed the previous winter. Dr. F. Allison Phillips, Mt. Zion’s pastor, spearheaded the
success of its installation, when others before him had let the ball drop. He had done a
tremendous job as pastor of Mt. Zion and I was proud to be a parishioner there. I felt that Dr. Phillips represented the kind of man I thought men should be. He treated women well, empowering them as fully vested members of society, not to mention the church community. He was all inclusive and honorable to his own wife. “God loves everyone,” he used to say. Because he was so politically active, Mt. Zion was taken seriously in the city.
At the end of choir rehearsal, and just before Alfred headed upstairs to play the organ
prelude, Dr. Phillips approached us to pray. Coming directly to me, he took my hand, placing his other on my forehead. The choir surrounded me and I began to tear up. I would truly miss them all. They and Mt. Zion had become my family and were such a blessing on my life. After the prayer, Dr. Phillips told me to listen intensely today. He had been given a word for me, he said. I could hear Alfred playing Pachelbel’s Prelude in D-Minor as I turned toward the stairs. It was grand. After getting into place in the vestibule of the church and at the prelude’s closing, Dr. Phillips said “Please stand for the processional and our wonderful choir.”
After beginning the service with his traditional Amen, Dr. Phillips complimented the
choir. “We have the best choir in Cleveland… Amen,” he said. The people clapped on cue. We all smiled, knowing full well that we weren’t the best, but it surely felt good to be appreciated for our dedicated service through music.
I got a chill, and the congregation took their seats. As Dr. Phillips had instructed, I
prepared myself to listen intensely to every word. The sermon was taken from I Kings in the Old Testament. Dr. Phillips asked that we bow our heads, and continued. “And God said—ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said unto God, I am but a little child. I know not how to go out or come in. Give therefore to me, thy servant, an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between Good and Bad” (I Kings Chapter 3:9). He continued, “On a hillside outside of Jerusalem, which Hebrew religion calls Gibeon, young King Solomon dutifully offered his sacrifice to God, never thinking that it would be the most defining moment of his life.”
I got another chill. Like Solomon on that hillside in Gibeon, I was about to serve God
in a major way. As yet I had no idea how, but it was his word that was uprooting me. I would really need to remember Dr. Phillips’s poignant words on that Sunday in August, he’d reminded. Was it possible that he’d seen my future? At any rate, I had learned such great lessons about faith, hope, and love, and I had Grandmother, Mama, and the church to thank for that. I was in for the ride of my life.
For more information contact Tony Coles at email@example.com
Book out January 4, 2018