Use the word y’all and, before you knew it, you’d find yourself in a haystack French-kissing an underage goat. Along with grits and hush puppies, the abbreviated form of “you all” is a dangerous step on the path leading straight to the doors of the Baptist church.
I am living proof that this is true. On New Year’s Day 2012, after a week with my in-laws in South Carolina, having heard the word “y’all” in every possible context (most notably, a “Merry Christmas, Y’all!” blinking road sign right outside of Charleston), I dragged Jason for what would be these atheists’ first Sunday at church in years/decades. Yes, it was Baptist. Not Southern Baptist. First Baptist.
My late father-in-law built that church and I wanted to see how it looked inside. I wanted to see the dedication plaque. I wanted to see who the congregants were. And then there was the fact that I was raised Catholic and had never attended a protestant service. Since it only opens on Sundays, this was our chance.
We dressed up and off we went. The pastor, a man in his early forties, donned a big, colourful bowtie. He shook our hands as we sat at the back and handed us a “Welcome” package (a form to fill with our names and e-mail addresses; we thanked him and discreetly shoved it back into one of the hymnals). People looked at us, rather intrigued.
That day, the sermon was given by the second-in-command (don’t ask me about the exact title). It was his last day before he left to become a pastor in a prison somewhere in Georgia. He gave an impassioned account of his own experience as a man of God, and what this meant to him: going to church is not enough, you have to get out there, help others, it’s a mission, it’s a calling, one that you have to be brave enough to accept. People cried and gathered in prayer at the altar (is that what you call it in Baptist?), hands on other people’s shoulders. Men with long hair and covered in tattoos shouted “amen,” as did the yuppy-looking couple who sat before us, surrounded by their foster kids. It was moving.
On the flat screens up ahead, lyrics appeared as the choir led us in song, karaoke-style (pink on blue, Comic Sans). So did advertisements for children’s church, men’s bible study, potlucks, and the schedule for the coming week. “This is new,” Jason said, and we agreed that it defaced the beautifully spare cross and the ceiling, all natural wood and white plaster. Wreaths on either side lit up as donations came in. Someone left a huge check in one of the baskets, and soon all Christmas decorations blinked to signal that the $4,000 goal had been achieved.
The whole thing lasted over an hour, then we headed back home for black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread. And that’s my story of how “y’all” led me to Sunday morning at a Baptist church.
— From SF.
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