If you have never worshiped in a black church, and particularly New Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, you have missed out on an indescribable, supernal blessing. Our black brothers and sisters know how to worship in spirit and in truth.
I had the privilege of preaching at New Calvary on Dec. 21 and was accorded the most cordial greeting imaginable and got great vocal and musical support for my sermon. I was in “hallelujah heaven” and the “amens” were not confined to some obscure corner.
Over a quarter of a century ago 24 individuals gathered to birth an African American church inside the walls of a mortuary – specifically the Alphonso Dawson Funeral Home in Atlanta. Pastor Pozie L. Redmond was the driving force behind the new church start on that autumn Saturday in 1989.
Under the visionary leadership of the dynamic and charismatic Pastor Redmond the church has met each challenge with courage and determination and celebrated each victory with thanksgiving and praise to God.
Pozie Redmond is a notable spiritual personality in Atlanta and among Georgia Baptists. He has been honored with countless civic and religious awards, including the Guiding Light Award for devoted community volunteerism from the city of Atlanta, the Outstanding Service Award from the Morehouse School of Medicine, the Pastor of the Year Award from the Greater Atlanta Interdenominational Mass Choir, and the Religion Award from the Concerned Black Clergy.
As a Georgia Baptist, Redmond has served as moderator of Southwest Atlanta Baptist Association and is currently active in its continued growth. Pastor Redmond is also the past president of the African American Fellowship of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
It is little wonder that New Calvary has experienced exponential growth under Pastor Redmond’s leadership.
As the church began to grow, a larger space was needed for worship and ministry. Within five months of the church’s inception New Calvary was able to acquire a church facility located on Dill Avenue in Atlanta. New ministries were added and as the church successfully reached out to its community unprecedented growth was experienced, prompting the pastor and leadership to search for an even larger facility to accommodate the growing congregation.
New Calvary was able to acquire the former Sylvan Hills Baptist Church on Melrose Drive and held its first service there on Mother’s Day of 2003. The mortuary was in the past. The sanctuary had become a reality.
With a membership of more than 2,500 and adequate space to house its continued growth, New Calvary has experienced a phenomenal expansion of its ministries.
The church has expanded its educational department and also entered into a partnership with New Orleans Seminary so that participants can earn credits toward its certificate programs in Biblical Ministry, Christian Education, Women’s Ministry, and Pastoral Ministry.
The church also has a Christian Women’s Job Corp with a focus on reaching and preparing women for success in the workforce.
Pastor Redmond has also spearheaded a Let’s Read program at the church designed to provide basic reading skills to participants by certified current and former educators.
In the Silver Anniversary Year, Pastor Redmond has a passionate desire to preserve and nurture young African American men through a program patterned after the national My Brother’s Keeper initiative launched by President Obama. He believes this new ministry will have a positive impact inside the church and in the surrounding communities.
Now, back to the worship. The music at New Calvary was supremely spirited. The choir was musically magnificent. The instrumentalists were gloriously gifted. The pastor was anointed and animated – even the announcements were riveting.
Just after the morning worship service had begun a sweet lady, Mrs. Mary Hughes, was gently and lovingly brought down to the front row. She was beautifully dressed and had on a lovely hat that gave her the appearance of some considerable height.
When the congregation finishing singing the song that had captivated my heart and attention, Pastor Redmond introduced the dear lady that had just been escorted in and announced that she was 101 years old, whereupon the organist began to spontaneously play Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” I had never heard that played in church, but it seemed absolutely appropriate for the moment.
The centenarian was not the only lady donning a Sunday hat. Multiple other ladies were also wearing beautiful bonnets. Many of the men were also dressed in their Sunday best. It reminded me of my home church in the 1950s on Easter Sunday morning.
This was the Sunday when the church also recognized the pastor for his 75th birthday. I would have never guessed Pozie Redmond was three-quarters of a century old, but he acknowledged that he was and he and his wife, Evelyn, had been married for 51 years. I felt like I had come to the church on the best possible Sunday for celebrating and worshiping.
And when I preached there were some of the people who stood for the entire sermon. I have seen people stand up for the last inning of a World Series game, but never for a sermon. They shouted and applauded and Pastor Redmond was behind me saying, “Amen! You tell ‘em preacher!” In fact, a couple of times he gave me an encouraging slap on the back.
You might ask, “Did you enjoy that kind of congregational participation in worship?”
Well, you had better believe I did.
I am convinced that what we do in the church must be done decently and in order, but I am also afraid that what we call “worship” is about to kill the average church.
I taught the lesson on Ezra 6 to my church Sunday School class recently and read verses 10-11 where we are told that in singing together, the people worshipped with trumpets and cymbals, “and all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord.”
A few hearty “amens” and “that’s right, preacher” will inspire your pastor and help to make a monotonous service momentous, a dull service delightful, a boring service blessed, and a gloomy service glorious.
Does your church seem to be suffering from spiritual rigor mortis? Try turning your mortuary into a sanctuary.