In November 2015, I walked into the little white church with the brown roof on the corner of Figueroa and Olive and felt like I’d come home again. Two weeks prior, I had overheard two women at the Laundromat talking about their church’s Christmas concert. “If you want to get a seat,” one of them said, “you’d better get there early!”
The feeling in that little church on that warm Sunday evening was simply and purely of joy itself. Everyone was hugging, kissing, laughing, and loving each other in a way I hadn’t witnessed since Mom took us back to the Gallagher family reunion when I was 12. In fact, that was it! This didn’t feel like a church at all — it felt like family. They even grabbed hold of me like I was one of their own.
As I listened to the magnificent choir, I silently thanked my mother, God rest her soul. Mom was born in Memphis and raised on Southern Gospel music. She learned to sing the blues by listening to Billie Holiday and Lil Green and spent countless hours down on Beale Street. After Mom passed a few years ago, I started to feel like it was my turn to sing. When I joined in singing the hymns, I swear I heard my mother’s voice.
Sitting there, I thought about how I loved going to Catholic church as a little girl. I always talked to God like He was my friend. Over the years, I began to drift from my religious upbringing and experimented with going to nondenominational churches, self-realization centers, and Eastern-religion temples, but none of them spoke to my heart.
Two of my best girlfriends are dyed-in-the-wool Christians. Our favorite subject is God, but neither of them has ever tried to convert me — probably because whenever they quoted scripture, my insides screamed, “Back off, Cowgirl!” But whenever an old coworker of mine, a devout Baptist from Georgia, used to praise Jesus every five minutes and pray for me unapologetically, I just wanted to crawl in her lap. Why couldn’t I hear the message from people of my own background and color?
Who cared? It felt like I found the God of my childhood! It didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t just the music that grabbed my soul that day and kept me coming back week after week — it was the Holy Spirit.
Each Sunday, Pastor Ficklin asks if any of the guests feel moved to join the church. One lovely December Sunday, I stood up and took a seat facing the congregation. With eyes twinkling, Pastor turned and asked his flock, “All those in favor of Cody Free becoming a member, say aye!” The whole church said, “Aye!” Then, “Any opposed?”
In that split-second pause, my heart stopped. I looked up with tears streaming down my cheeks and almost said out loud, “Please?” From the looks on their faces, I knew I belonged.
A recent Sunday-school lesson was “Pray for Boldness.” As one of the newest and happiest members of Greater Hope Baptist, I am shouting from the rooftops, “PRAISE THE LORD!”
Greater Hope Baptist Church is located at 430 East Figueroa Street. Call (805) 966-7264.