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Music, message make Sunday church visit memorable

Sunday I attended the Harris Temple Church of God in Christ. I was somewhat nervous for a couple of reasons. I had not been to church in a long time, I did not know anyone who would be at the church, and I had never been to an African American church.

I know that churches are an important part of community life so I decided to push my nervousness aside. I am very glad that I did.

I arrived at the church ten minutes before the service started. Almost immediately, two sisters who were slightly younger than I approached me. The older sister said that she did not like the idea of me sitting by myself. They invited me to sit with them and introduced me to fellow church members. Needless to say, I was feeling welcomed before the service even began.

The church was unlike any church I had been too. The first difference I noticed was the musical instruments. Churches I had always attended had only a standard piano. Harris Temple had a full band, equipped with an organ, saxophone, bass guitar, and a drum set.

Some of the choir members and even some of the congregation had tambourines, which they played quite skillfully. This upbeat tempo was different from what I was used to in church.

As the music played members of the congregation often exclaimed "AMEN" and "HALLELUJAH" as they clapped along to the beat. The atmosphere of the room was vibrant and full of energy with active participation from the church members in the pews.

A woman who appeared to be at least 70 years old wore a blue dress and heels and danced merrily at the front of the room. Despite her age, I believe she danced in her heels better than I can at age 22.

The band played along with the choir for about 30 minutes.  Just the power of music took me through a variety of emotions.

A speaker then took the microphone in order to relay community and church announcements. She began by asking any visitors if they would like to stand. I awkwardly stood and smiled as I introduced myself, and I greatly appreciated the warm response.

She then continued to inform us of ongoing events in the community, such as the Family and Friends Day celebration and other community events Harris Temple collaborates on with other churches to facilitate. She went on to encourage the congregation to participate by describing what type of activities would be at the events.

She also mentioned programs such as the Pre-K program in Elba and the summer Camp EXCEL sponsored by the Elba Parks and Recreation Department.

After the announcements, the band and choir played more music. Many people danced and clapped along to the beat. After a couple of minutes, the preacher introduced a guest speaker who would be delivering the message.

A young woman who appeared to be 25 then took the microphone.

She had a different appearance from people you would typically imagine as speaking in front of the church, yet I must admit that it was probably one of my all time favorite messages I have heard in any service. I will not be able to fully relay her message, but I would like to touch on the parts of her message I personally found to be insightful.

She began her message by encouraging the congregation to be perfectly imperfect. She shared her personal story, admitting it was hard to open up.  She elaborated by saying that there may be things you may not be fond of or that you won't reveal, but sometimes God calls someone like herself who is not afraid to say, "I messed up."

She compared this statement to the use of make-up concealer in which people try to cover up their flaws, but it does not change what is underneath.

One statement she made was important. "There's so much judgment going on that people are afraid to become Christian, they're afraid to come to church. I too was afraid."

She continued to explain that she had once been a heavy drinker and admitted she enjoyed the times she had drinking. This to me was very raw and honest, and I appreciated it.

She went on to say how she knew that she would be judged, but added, "We all sin, we just do it differently... Instead of being real, we push it under a rug. But what if God cleans your house?"

She asked the congregation if trying to cover up flaws may prevent the church from drawing more people in. "It's okay to be messed up. Don't let people keep you from the presence of God." She said proudly, "This is me."

One of my favorite parts of her message was when she said, "When you get here [to church] people are judging you- trying to figure out what your tears are for, why you're here.... You can't see that I need help because you're too busy looking at how I started.”

She added a challenge, "Church is a place we come for refuge, but we get more love on the streets, and that’s why so many people stay in the streets because they feel loved there."

These honest comments were touching. This message was about accepting your flaws, and that of others, and not regarding others as incapable of being Christian because they make mistakes.

It was full of love for all of mankind, and I fully appreciated it. It made me realize that humans are all imperfect creatures who try to maintain some picture perfect image, but if we stop trying so hard to be a perfect image to impress others, or to keep from being judged by others, then maybe we can make real connections with one another.

In conclusion, I was very happy with my visit to Harris Temple. The message was beautiful, the service was filled with smiles, tears, and laughter, and despite being the only Caucasian in the room I did not feel as if I were treated any differently. I was hugged and invited back to the church several times, and I just may take them up on that offer.