Since the late 1980s, I have been writing about religion, faith, whatever you want to call it.
I recall the discussion before The Durham Herald-Sun, where I worked at the time, decided to make space available for faith news.
In order to throw my opinion into the conversation, I called the Durham Area Chamber of Commerce to find out how many people in the area attended church on Sundays. I remember the words, but not the person who said them: “Probably more than attend area football games on Saturdays.”
That bit of information may have played into the decision to give religion a try.
Over the years, I have collected a virtual war chest of stories. Many of these bits of trivia are often funny, but on the other hand, many were spiritually uplifting.
Here are some favorites.
A man came to the newspaper’s front desk one day, told the receptionist that he was Jesus and wanted to talk to somebody. Of course, she called me. I told her to send him right up because I had a long list of questions I had been waiting all my life to ask him.
Co-workers wanted to know what questions I posed. Answer: The same questions I would ask any person of interest, including how’s your father?
I love black church worship and its music and have had much pleasure getting to know numerous congregations and their clergy.
One of my favorite African-American pastors called me one day with a complaint. He wanted to know why his announcement about a special speaker at his church was not in the faith column that week.
I checked my hard copy. His announcement was not there.
This seemed to infuriate him and he said something to the effect that I had left it out on purpose because the newspaper and I were both racist. I tried to mount a defense, but he was not impressed.
About two days later, the purloined announcement came in the mail, postmarked about three weeks earlier. I called to tell him.
He apologized and said his congregation was leaning on him about the announcement and he shot off his mouth without thinking. We decided to forget the whole thing.
A couple of days later, I got a note from him in the mail with a $5 bill inside. The note said, “Have a cup of coffee on me.”
The managing editor happened to be walking by. He took a look and said, “Of course, you have to send it back.” I suggested that a better way might be to ask the pastor to meet me at Foster’s Market and have a cup of coffee together. That’s what happened.
Here is a Palm Sunday event that happened at a Baptist Church.
I don’t recall where I attended church that Sunday, but I do recall it was raining like crazy.
On Monday morning, I got a call from the pastor, a man with an ecumenical sense of humor, a great preacher and one of my best friends. He said, “You should have been here yesterday. Jesus fell on his ass.”
A Duke Divinity student was riding a live donkey being used for the Palm Sunday processional. When the donkey stepped into the vestibule with tile on the floor, it slipped and fell.
Participating in worship when visiting faith groups is something I have always done. Unless, of course, they refused to give me access.
Once I almost got thrown out of a new storefront church because I made a smart remark to the ushers when they asked if I were carrying a firearm.
I told them no, that I had left my pearl-handled pistol at home. I had no idea this would stir a ruckus. I don’t even have a pearl-handled pistol.
I had to do some fast talking that day, showing my identification and press credentials in order to be allowed inside. It was worth it. The pastor turned out to be a graduate of Duke Divinity, a noteworthy preacher and a super human being.
When a Reformed Presbyterian congregation bought the church property left vacant on Watts Street after St. Barbara Greek Orthodox moved to southwest Durham, a friend who was a retired hospital chaplain, and I went visiting. We both are Presbyterians so we were interested in how this “new-to-us” group of Calvinists did business.
Nothing different from straight-up Presbyterian liturgy until we got to Holy Communion.
Nobody said anything, but we were not offered the bread and wine. I could feel my friend starting to move slowly and then she stood up. She said she had never been excluded from the Lord’s Table before in a Presbyterian Church and then she gathered up her skirts and walked out.
I talked to the pastor afterward. He explained that in this Presbyterian Church, anyone who takes communion on Sunday must be visited during the previous week by a church elder and deemed worthy to come to the table.
Folks who know church history will recall that communion tokens were commonplace in some Presbyterian churches of yesteryear.
I wrote the column about the visit and because my editor sensed its significance, he played it on the front of the section. I got more response, comments and invitations, from that column than from anything I have ever written.
But the upshot is also powerful.
The next week I got a call from a Southern Baptist minister in northern Durham County, who said, “Flo, when you want to take communion, come to our church. We’ll be glad to serve you.”
Unless you know that some groups of Baptists in the past did not allow people to the communion table unless they were baptized by immersion, the significance of this invitation may not be apparent.
More in a nutshell.
▪ Having a rabbi read to me from the Torah at the synagogue.
▪ Visiting a mega-church where the preacher rode onto the podium on his motorcycle.
▪ Sharing Holy Communion on Easter Sunday afternoon with homeless folks who lived in the woods along the “Football Highway” between Durham and Chapel Hill.
▪ Writing the wedding story of a same-sex couple, one of them a Christian pastor in Chapel Hill.
▪ Running into Christian hospitality at the front door of a Baptist Church where an older gentleman who stood there every Sunday pressed a Life Saver into my palm, just in case I got an itchy throat during the service.
▪ Eating a seder meal at Beth El Synagogue with a friendly family who explained every part of the ritual.
▪ Listening to Dean Will Willimon preach at Duke Chapel.
▪ Seeing an associate pastor at a Presbyterian Church make a fool of himself for Jesus, dressed like a cowboy and riding a stick horse down the church aisle.
▪ Going to a healing service at a Catholic Church in Raleigh with a friend who fell backward when the priest laid hands on her head. When she “awakened,” she got up, came back to her seat and asked, “What happened?”
I said, “Look, you tell me. You were the one lying on the floor up there.”
In the words of liturgy used in many of the diverse and always interesting worship centers, churches, synagogues, chapels, temples, storefronts and a few outdoor venues, in the Triangle, “To God be the glory!”
Contact Flo Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 910-361-4135.