Many years ago my great grandmother Roberta Paige Turner helped to establish the first Church of God In Christ in the Portsmouth/Hampton Rhodes, VA area. Thus the beginnings of my 4th generation COGIC roots. Growing up , my mother sent my sister and I to church as a way to garner some "me" time for herself. We went, by ourselves, to whatever church was within walking distance or a relative or neighbor would take us to. Denomination didn't matter I guess, as long as they didn't eat little girls. My mom found Jesus sometime in her 40's and by then I didn't want anything to do with any church, I'd just make guest appearances at weddings and funerals. Her way of punishing us was to make us go to church. If we wanted to go to a dance or a party on Friday or Saturday night the trade off was we had to go to church on Sunday. She'd joined the church most of my family here in the New Haven, CT area attended - Trinity Temple Church of God in Christ where Bishop Charles H. Brewer, Jr. was pastor. After a couple of chilly cold walks to/from church I decided partying with my friends wasn't worth the torture of sitting through a church service. Over the years my mother tried to cajole, intimidate, coerce and hoodwink me into going to church but by then I'd seen a bit of the world, considered myself cosmopolitan and hedging my bets decided I'd be agnostic.
Although my conversion in my mid-20's wasn't a Saul/Paul experience of getting struck blind on the road to Damascus (or Bridgeport for that matter!) for persecuting Jesus' followers, I had plenty to be repentant about. Still do. It was enough however, to propel me headfirst into joining the "Grand Old Church of God in Christ" where I was fed spiritually, immersed in doctrine and put up on all kinds of church protocol. Lord have mercy did the Church Mother have her hands full with me and my "too short frocks". ..By the time I'd moved on and out of the COGIC, doctrine and Sunday School teaching firmly under my belt, she'd whipped me into some kind of reasonable shape and submission. Over the years I'd attended Official Days, Women's Days, Choir Anniversaries, Pastoral Anniversaries, Church Anniversaries, Pre-Pastoral Anniversaries, First Lady Day's, Teas, International Festivals, Conferences, Seminars, Retreats, Meetings and the grandaddy of 'em all - the COGIC Holy Convocation held annually each November - better known as "Memphis" to the initiated. I can't fathom how much I've given in offerings, dues, assessments and presentations during that time. How much was spent on clothes/hair/jewelry/shoes preparing for some of these functions. I don't even care - I'm just free of it. So now when I attend a COGIC-related event it's usually with a slight tilt of my head, y'know? I mean, I know what to expect and what's expected of me - but it's sort of an out of body experience. I had one of those experiences at the homegoing service of Mother Sadie Brewer, mother of Charles H. Brewer, Jr., presiding Bishop for the 1st Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ, Connecticut.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
10:55am - A typical November New England Day - grey, blustery, 50ish. It's the middle of my work day but - the Blog MUST go on. I got married at Trinity Temple, so did my sister for one of her 3 weddings. Other family weddings, funerals and anniversary celebrations have been held here. I never knew Mother Brewer. I was never a member of Trinity - but I know Bishop , now "Senior Pastor" and his only son Chuckie, now "Acting Pastor" although to my knowledge there's been no formal installation or passing of the baton. Our families have a long history going back to my great aunt Ruby Turner Pullen and "old Bishop" Brewer and Mama Brewer. They were contemporaries back when Trinity was located on Foote St. and well before I'd moved to New Haven. Aunt Ruby raised her family at Trinity. Her legacy is awe-inspiring: elders, missionaries, evangelists and pastors populate our family.
I park on Dixwell Avenue 1/2 a block from the church. A white limousine and pearl white hearse from Howard K. Hill Funeral Services are parked out front and there's virtually none of the usual foot traffic. I think to myself that perhaps I'm late/have missed something. As I approach the entrance a fellow I've seen at many of the aforementioned services falls in step with me from out of nowhere. We speak and enter the vestibule. There's been some updatin' and renovatin' at the "New Trinity Temple" and everything is brighter and more open. Black-suited men are everywhere - some I recognize, some I've never seen before. I'm on the clock because the viewing ends in like, 5 minutes. I go through the glass doors and right down the center aisle with a nod to a cluster of ushers who seemed to not be in short supply. It's not particuarly crowded yet so the opportunity to do a little hobnobbing and still get a good seat is not unrealistic. Mother Brewer's platinum colored casket is surrounded with a modest group of floral arrangements and sprays. I'd certainly expect more of a display with her only son being Bishop and her only daughter Pat being a pastor but I guess these hard economic times are cutting a pretty wide path. If I was still at my last COGIC church it would've been my job to see to it that a bereavement arrangment was sent...Mother is decked out in a winter white suite trimmed in matching fox fur. She's rocking a metallic gold turban-style hat (you don't get too much more COGIC than that!) with matching metallic gold ballet slippers. Yep, the coffin was totally open which is unusual no doubt - but cool. You can tell she was short since her feet didn't even reach the end of the casket. Either HKH's staff or somebody with the magic touch did her makeup or she was just blessed like that because her chocolate brown skin was as smooth as a baby's - a peacefilled, restful expression on her face, her pink manicured hands gracefully folded. Wow - even in the ultimate repose this woman's giving off vibes of pure elegance!
I decide to forego the mingling and instead found a seat on the last pew so I could have a wider view of the goings on and a quick and easy escape route since I knew I couldn't stay for the entire service. I guess the directive had been given for all the women/missionaries/evangelists to wear white or their official habits because I could see them all over the sanctuary now - either in their most elaborate winter white suits or the habits complete with hats reminiscent of a 1940's nurses uniform. 2 of my Aunt Ruby's daughters are sitting a few pews in front of me - Jackie and Jimmie. Jackie in white and her trademark ranch mink beret, Jimmie in a royal blue rain hat, and royal-er blue raincoat and who know's what underneath. Guess she didn't get the email...Enter Sheilah McCrazy and her mom, both dripping in full-length minks on this 50+ degree morning. Over. Kill. McCrazy has on a sharp ivory felt, high crowned hat - with an even sharper cherry red knit skirt suit. CHERRY RED. I can remember being told as a young girl that when someone wore red to a funeral it signified that they were "glad the person was dead". Now I don't know how true that is or where it even came from but c'mon - CHERRY RED??? At least her mama had on off-white. It's a little after 11 and the choir's all in white up and ready to go. I can see the gang of black suited men in the vestibule trying to get asssembled and Howard Hill himself assisting and appearing to give up. I could've told him that when you get that many preachers in one room/area you can fuggetaboutit - they're barely gonna take orders from the Almighty let alone a funeral director.
11:13am - The ushers open the double glass doors and Aunt Ruby's baby boy, Augustus "Butch" Pullen is clearly in charge. He's a district Superintendent for the COGIC and Bishop's go-to man for many years. Because he's a national adjutant he's extremely well-versed in all areas of protocol and Bishop knows he can be relied upon to do things "decently and in order". This is what he does. The choir's shifting into 3rd gear on the upbeat song and he gives the young director a stern look and signals with both hands to bring it waaaaay down. The choir does but the musicians are apparently in a zone. Finally everybody gets the message and the processional makes its way down the aisle. There are way more clergy/missionaries than Brewers. I'd say they're outnumbered 3-to-1 easily. Bishop Brewer in declining health for some years is wheeled in by a sunglass wearing, extra black edged up and bearded Scott Marks who's own father was just funeralized a week ago. Chuckie escorts his aunt Pat McDaniels who just always looks refined and polished to me but now has the weary look of grief underneath all of her finery. Hers and Chuck's children make up most of the family. Cassandra opted for something more colorful than the all white attire but Pat's oldest daughter working a blonde "I Dream of Jeanie" ponytail was in white. The last time I saw her she was bellydancing on the old Steve Harvey's Big Time show. All 200+ pounds of her. There's a older, chubby bleached blonde white woman in white and nothing short of a Vegas showgirl makeup job with the group. I don't have a program (they seem to be in short supply) so I can't even take an educated guess at who she might be.
11:30am - Everyone in their respective places, Bishop's bishop's chair has been removed from the altar and placed alongside the front pew. Butch is officiating. Pastor Gilbert Ginyard opens with a congregational hymn of "When We All Get To Heaven" except the sound system sounds like it's got a sock on it and either Ginyard or the organist started in a key entirely too low. All you could make out was the chorus - everything else was completely muffled. Oh well. He'd get a chance at redemption later in the service. Elder Rucker offers a prayer of condolence and Pastor Roger Wilkins "melodies of praise". The sock is finally removed from the sound system but the vibe is just, eh. Elder Ron Hurd gives the Old Testament reading, Pastor Nathaniel Woodward the New Testament. A proclamation from Trinity is read by the church's Administrator, Terrie Atkinson MacAuley Horton Estes detailing some of the attributes and accomplishments of this "Great Woman of God" - a phrase that would be oft repeated during this service. More resolutions and remarks were lined up and it was obvious this funeral was far from over.
12:00pm - Pastor Ginyard's back this time to sing "Stand" with the choir's support. The sound systems' healed and the organist has his correct key. All systems are go. Bishop gets wheeled out by Marks, presumably to the big boy's room since he's back in 5. It's circling around the time for me to get back to work. I entrust my Godson Joel to take up the reigns and report back to me once the funeral wraps up. I leave at 12:40pm and what follows is from his report...
2:00pm - I phone Joel to see if the funeral's over - he whispers "No, I'll call you when it's done." I can hear a woman speaking over the p.a. system in the background. Dang - they haven't even made it to the eulogy yet...
3:40pm - I text Joel to see if the funeral's over - he texts me back that he'll call me and tell me all about it.
Evidently at some point Mother Rivers, the COGIC's National Supervisor of Women(oh God, there are just soooo many titles to be had in this organization it makes me dizzy so please pardon me if I've messed somebody's credentials up!) who was in attendance with her adjutant, Mother Bogan got up to go to the ladies room. Sheilah McCrazy seized that opportunity to accost this woman (trust me, she had to climb over some people to get to her) as she made her way up the aisle and pressed her phone number on her telling her how she'd like to work in the Women's department on the national level!!! First the inappropriate suit color and now this?? Are there no boundaries this chick won't cross?? Did somebody miss their meds this morning?? Lord keep me somewhere in the vacinity of the cross!
Neither Bishop nor his sister Pat had remarks, they left that to their children Chuck and Cassandra respectively. Chuck went the "evangelist route" with a modest attempt at exhortation and Cassandra took the "intellectual path". Bishop Frank White in his remarks mentioned that "were it not for Bishop's health issues, he would have been elected to the General Board [of the COGIC} by now." Hmmmmm...Bishop Roy Jones gave the eulogy using the title "I just want to get out of here saved." Amen and selah. I think it's safe to assume that Mother Brewer did just that. Her assignment in this life fulfilled, God's plan for her legacy set in motion. Now we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out for the rest of us.