January 2004–Catering from youthful tradition, to teenage obligation, and finally to adult acknowledgment and understanding, there is a church; Refuge Temple Ministries to be exact. I have been to this place many times in my life; and this is Refuge Temple.
Refuge Temple Ministries has not only evolved physically (in appearance), but through time, the perception of the church has evolved also, due to an intervening agent, age. The church has sat on about ten acres since 1974. It’s hasn’t been known for its breathe taking appearance, but every Sunday people still gather in this edifice to hear from the lord. Some argue that first impression is everything. Well if that was the case there wouldn’t be any members at Refuge Temple. The church was initially painted white, but after a few hurricanes, tornadoes, strong winds and rain, the paint looks as though it had gotten tired of staying on the wood, so it just faded away. The parking lot is filled with mud, due to the rain that gathers on the gravel parking lot. Obviously the draining system isn’t to excellent, because it doesn’t drain the water off of the parking lot. Walking up to the doors is similar to walking into a graduation at Hofhienz Pavilion. It has huge doubled doors made of cherry wood that takes about all of a person’s energy just to open the door.
Sunday mornings for Refuge Temple, church going people is traditional. It is a habitual practice of waking up and turning on gospel music, getting the kids ready for church, and then finally rushing everyone in the car and proceeding to church.
Upon reaching the church I could see an old fragile woman by the name of Margaret Booker, who would be awaiting all of the little children so she could kiss them on their forehead, and leave slight streaks of saliva. All of the children immediately wipe off the streaks and proceed to their playground, the last two rows of the sanctuary. After seeing this display of “spiritual affection” from Sister Booker, an usher came out to the foyer and gathered everyone in the service. At this church, everyone is either a sister or a brother. Each person is addressed as sister or brother followed by their last name. We were greeted by our fellow saints and then I proceeded to the sanctuary.As the service begins, Bro. Mike asked, “Is there anyone who wants to pray at the altar?” After a brief pause, to allow some to come to the altar, he commences into a brief prayer.
“Father God in the name of Jesus, we want to come to you today first to give you praise and glory for being God. We thank you for keeping us throughout the week and allowing us to come together and worship you one more time. We ask that you forgive us for the sins in which we have committed over this week. We want to be closer to you. You are God almighty, and we will serve you to the end of days.”
After prayer, Psalms 102 was read for the congregational reading. Next the praise team is called up, and the praise team leader, Bro. Alex, commences into sing “I know it was the blood.” Brother Alex was considered as “the vampire of the church,” because he always sung songs such as: I know it was the blood, the lamb was slain in blood, and his number one hit, the blood that Jesus shed for you and I. The base guitarist begins to violently strike the strings which made everyone’s head move to the beat. Then suddenly, “Man I feel the spirit,” shouted the slim women on my right. Then as the domino effect of World War One, every one began to dance all at once. They called it shouting, which was a holy form of dancing. Across the way I could see a woman shaking her head so violently to the music that her hair started to fall out. But to my comfort I later found out that she had just glued it in this morning so she wasn’t shouting herself bald as I had thought. This went on for about twenty minutes
By the time the song was over, about half of the whole entire congregation was at the altar, finishing their last holy dance steps. Then everyone started praying and lifting up their voices to God. Many of the elders of the church began to speak in a different languages and yell, “Hallelujah.” Until now, I’d never realized what the Bible meant when it spoke “those who believe in Christ will speak in new tongues.” While this is going on the foyer door is opened, and in steps Bishop Wendell Archie, Pastor Harry Simon Sr., Pastor John Bush, and Pastor Jimmy Guillory. All of these men come into the service with their “game faces on.”
Each of the pastors at this church has different personalities and preaching characteristics. Pastor Harry Simon Sr. is the kind of preacher who doesn’t do a lot of yelling, but instead he would rather use the dictionary and other sources to help prove and show the congregation his points. Pastor Jimmy Guillory is a man from New Orleans, Louisiana with a very strong accent. It is praise worthy just if someone can honestly say that they can understand what he is saying. Therefore, Pastor Jimmy doesn’t preach that often. Pastor John Bush is the preacher who will scream throughout his whole entire sermon. It has been said that Pastor Bush tries to beat his previous amplitude record every time he preaches. After all of the Pastors march in with Bishop Wendell, they give the signal to brother Alex that they are ready to take the service to a higher level; the sermon. Brother Alex received the signal and immediately took up the offering, and allowed Brother Henry, an usher, to pray over the offering. This is Brother Henry’s only time to shine so, instead of just praying for the offering, he decides that he wants to give a few words of exhortation. Finally, the offering is collected together and handed to the head usher to take to the finance office.
After this, Bishop Wendell was called up and he began his sermon. He yelled and moved so much on the pulpit, that his shirt had sweat running from it like rivers of running water. He was the type of preacher that treated a sermon like a meal at a five star restaurant. In his first five minutes of every sermon, Bishop Wendell would act as the waiter. He welcomed all the visitors that came to “hear the word of the lord.” Then he’d move on to the menu; in which he would give the congregation a layout of what they could expect the sermon to contain. After the menu section, Bishop would move on to the hors d’oerves. In this period of the sermon, the Bishop gave the congregation little excerpts from his soon-to-be powerful, god-sent sermon, which would prepare the congregation for the full course meal.
The children in the back row play and touch each other the whole service, never once stopping to see whether or not the sermon, in which the Bishop is preaching, can be beneficial unto them. “How long will the church continue to be led away from God,” asked the Bishop.
“Amen brother you better preach,” yelled out Sis. Fiddian. Bishop Wendell lifted up one leg and hopped on it as a one-legged kangaroo, and yelled, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Many people saw Bishop Wendell as a preacher who would scare his people into serving God. He was also a very long-winded preacher. Bishop could hold a sermon for two hours. He’d always defend his “soap box” stand point by saying that, “In the Bible, Solomon preached for four hours straight.” This always brought the thoughts of the service being to long back into subjection. Bishop now closes out his sermon and calls an altar call. An altar call is a time when everyone is allowed to come to the altar and pray to God. The altar call is also a time when the little kids of the back two rows will wake up and began playing again. The playing between the kids escalates to an even higher level, because there is no supervision, because all of the parents are at the altar praying. The kids are now playing hide-and-go-seek under the benches. When Bishop Wendell called this altar call everyone herded up to the front of the church like pigs to the trough. I look to my left and notice a young man sitting in his seat, contemplating whether or not to take his place with his fellow swine, and make the altar call. Just as I could have expected, the little kids had begun their games under the benches.
As I took my place in the altar call, I couldn’t help but notice and embrace the euphoric feeling that I received while being prayed for at the altar. This Pianist, Earl Jones, who majored in music, and minored in classical, began to play a soft piece titled, The Lord is Here.
The sounds of prayer and worship compassed the room as the clouds surround the firmament of heaven. Women and men everywhere began to cry and wave their hands in the air, which symbolized a sign of surrendering to the will of God. Many people came to God on that day, and began to live different from that day forward. Refuge Temple is not just a church. It is not a playground for young children to re-enact the last cops and robber episode they saw on television, but it was a safe haven. Refuge Temple brings people together where they can worship God, and feel free to pray and receive words of teachings from God.
“Did you enjoy the service,” I asked Brother Joseph.
“I really enjoyed the service, because I have never heard a man preach like that. Bishop Wendell is a man of God and his message was truly sent from God,” he replied.
This was common after church to fellowship with the congregation and talk about the service. After this everyone stops by the concession stands in the church’s kitchen and buy a substitute for dinner; which is usually some supreme nachos, hotdogs, or gumbo.
Everyone is leaving now, but the memories of the message and the service will leave with everyone until they meet again “Next Sabbath”