by Patia Braithwaite
“I was a naive little kid. I actually thought I would grow up and become a Pastor of a white church because I was a member of a white church. I didn’t know the difference between white and black. Every time I looked at my mother I saw a white person, so it took me a while to figure out the concept of race. And so I thought love was and unconditional, it wasn’t based on what race you were. I thought God loved everybody and I actually thought that everyone loved everyone else. It wasn’t until much later that I figured things out. My age of innocence lasted longer than most people’s…” – D. Young
There was a funeral in progress when I arrived at Siloam Presbyterian Church. The shiny black hearse parked by the curb should have clued me in, but I didn’t immediately notice. However, when I opened the large wooden doors, I found myself in the middle of mourning. There were about fifteen people standing in the darkened lobby, some of them making polite conversation, while others were silently comforting each other. I spotted a few well-behaved children. They did not seem to notice the sadness that surrounded them. Two little boys were giggling while the adults around them remained solemn.
I immediately tried to make myself invisible, moving through sad faces and tearful eyes so as not to rub against the rawness of their emotions. I tiptoed out of the lobby and spotted an office in the hallway.
“I’m here to see Reverend Young,” I whispered from the doorway.
An older man glanced up from his computer screen and looked at me. Slowly, he rose from his wooden desk and came over to the door. He squinted at me, perhaps sizing me up and assessing my intentions.
“You mean Pastor Young?” he said. “I think he’s ’bout to do a funeral service.”
I glanced over my shoulder, and looked into the sanctuary. The room was large and bright, filled with rows of wooden pews. Siloam Presbyterian Church was built in 1849 by a former slave, and every inch of the building was filled with history and purpose. I glanced up at the altar and spotted men in black trench coats talking with one another. I imagined Pastor Young comforting the men, ministering to them, their bodies heavy with grief. I did not see him, but I was certain that he was there.
“Nah, he’s not doing the funeral” a woman’s voice called out. “That’s just a rental. He’s upstairs in his office.”
The older man tilted his head to one side. He smiled at me, but he studied my snow boots, and the scarf around my head. I tugged at my short pea coat, and automatically tightened the scarf around my neck.
“He’s expecting me,” I explained. I was growing impatient. I glanced over my shoulder again. The men were starting to make their way toward the lobby.
“Hold on sista,” the man said as he walked back over to his desk and picked up his phone. He mumbled into the receiver, laughed, and then hung up.
“Aiight then,” the man said finally. “Go on up.”
I climbed the sturdy old staircase and smiled. No matter where you go, there is always a gatekeeper. I thought about the funeral unfolding below my feet, and remembered the childhood stories of Saint Peter, the saint that allegedly stands at the gates of heaven.
There’s always a VIP section, I thought to myself. It never ends….
(**excerpt from my chapter called “The Man Inside the Minister”)