I've been trying to remember exactly when I first met "Professor" William Stefon Hawkins. It seems to me he's always sung with us (Kergyma - 'ker-gee-ma' - Community Choir) he's always been the same age and he's always had a head full of hair. I know none of this is true - but it is what it seems and for me, so it is. Stef's a funny, bright, whip-smart, fashionably avant garde musician, singer, director and all around renaissance 27 year-old man who got my portion of gifts and talents along with yours. Don't believe me? Watch him work with any one of the 4, 5, 6 - I've lost count - choirs/groups he sings/plays for/works with for half an hour and tell me otherwise. If you believe in auras, his would be a kaleidoscopic prism, undefinable by one particular color or pattern. His unequivocal love of the Lord and God's obvious anointing on him makes for the good cake mix that is Stefon. He gets it: delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. He's working the Word and reaping the benefits.
Stef got one-two'd by life last week in the early morning hours when his dad was found dead in his home. His father's only living child, he was about to get a crash course in responsibility with an annex class on grief. The tests that no body can take for you. No cheating allowed...
William Henry Hawkins, Jr.
Sunrise, November 18, 1947 - Sunset, August 10, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
10:50am - I arrive at Bible Gospel Center Church in Hamden on the epitome of a perfect, summer's morning. Not a cloud in the cornflower blue sky. Windows down, sunroof back, enjoying the breeze I wave at Howard Hill and make a k-turn to grab a parking space on Leeder Hill Dr. directly across from the church. Although I'd love to stay and help out in any way I can, I've got 2 appointments I couldn't reschedule at work so getting caught up in the parking lot afterwards isn't in the game plan. I give my "howdy-do's" to the funeral home staff and enter the vestibule behind a group of other women. We sign the guestbook and are greeted by one of Kergyma's founders, AJ. He admires the huge, silk, hot pink bloomed rose I have pinned on my black sheath in accordance with dress protocol ("black & white with a splash of color!") and directs me to another choir member for my monetary donation for Stef. I'm told that those of us who are singing are to sit in the front of the sanctuary across from the pulpit. Since there was nobody there yet I opted for a seat along the wall in the absolute back of the church. Bible Gospel Center is in a large industrial building and although I've been here for musicals, a wedding, a memorial service and now a funeral, I'm really not sure just how much space it truly occupies. A few years ago the pastor of the church, Rev. John Goode died and now his wife is carrying the mantel. The chairs are wide, padded and comfy and just as I felt a nod coming on one of Bible Gospel Center's favorite sons, Norman "BooBoo" Thomas greeted me and told me if I was singing I could go up front.
11:05 - A group of us Kergymians filled up some seats across from the closed, flag-draped casket and watched the assembling crowd watch us watch them."Tomorrow" by the Winans played softly in the background over and over again. In fact, it had been playing since I arrived. I ask Tory if it was Mr. Hawkins' favorite song or something. I've made the song selections for my homegoing service well known: every version of "I'll fly away" you can find and just run it. Hey, ya like what ya like...
11:15 - More singers take their seats and more people fill the sanctuary but the family still hasn't arrived. My prayer for Stef and his family these past few days have been for peace among them and favor with those who could help smooth this whole funeral planning process out for him. I'd been told that he had a difficult time locating his dad's paperwork and it was adding to an already stressful situation. Readers, please let this be an important life lesson: whether you live in a household of 10 people or are a borderline hermit like me, do everyone a big solid and put all your important papers (insurance policies, medications, dr.'s, bank info, etc.) in ONE place, preferrably somewhere fire /water proof. Thank yew...
11:21 - The family has arrived and the processional begins. Stefon's pastor, John Cotton is the officiant and he leads the way with Rev. Dawna Thomas - Norman's statuesque wife, head and shoulders above him - at his side. The tastefully printed programs arrive simultaneously and I'm torn between pouring over mines and watching the processional. Wisely, I choose the processional since I don't know anyone in Stef's family other than his big sister Jackie and her two children Marcus and Jasmine. Stefon, sporting a short-waisted, tweed Windsor jacket, a co-ordinating Kangol, skinny black slacks and his trademark oversize bowtie and cornrows, is escorting his mom and Jasmine, poor dear, is almost doubled over in grief. All total, they take up the first 3 rows of seating and Cotton stays right on task asking that the hymn, "Draw Me Nearer" be sung. Boom, Kergyma's original Musical Director and friend to the room, is on the Hammond and starts the melody. Nobody's singing. He plays another bar - crickets. Tory announces to those of us within earshot: "we should be singing." Boom plays another bar, maybe 2. I don't know and I don't know this song. I didn't grow up in any particular church and trust me, after attending the grand old COGIC for nigh unto 20 years of my adult life, that was NOT a song we EVER sung on a Sunday morning. I told Tory I could lip synch as I picked up the hymnal from underneath the chair in front of me and flipped to the index. Tory does the same and soon everyone down the row is following suit. It's comforting to know that no one else knew the song either. She and Erica Wilkins, both strong sopranos, find the song first and pick it up wherever Boom's at. True to my word, I lip synch until we reach the chorus and actually add a little volume. Thank God there are no mics in the vacinity to pick up this boiling hot mess. I refuse to look at either Stefon or Cotton, my shame ever before me. This is not a sweet, sweet sound to the Lord's ears. Or mine.
11:30 - The invocation is given, the Old and New Testament readings offered and Kergyma, one of the many musical ministries Stef labors with (and I don't use that word loosely)is called on for the first musical selection. About 15 or so current and former members crowd the pulpit. Gathered around 3 mics we get the celebration of a life lived started with Stefon's own revamping of the old standard, "Jesus is Mine." It's always a crowd pleaser and we always enjoy singing it. It always tickles me to see people's reaction to that song when first hearing it - like "is it really o.k. to bop my head, and groove like this in church???" Yessir, and it's fun ain't it?!?
11:45 - Those who've been asked to give reflections are called. This is always key for me, especially if I'm not familiar with the deceased since it gives me more insight to what kind of person they were. The first fellow wasa cousin or nephew and spoke of how his uncle was always ready with advice and supported his move to New Haven from Bridgeport. He remarked that Mr. Hawkins would come to his home for dinner on a weeknight only to find that his wife had prepared not one but "two meats - on a weekday!" telling him that she was a "scratch-off boy! don't let her get away!" The next young man was also a relative and was so overwhelmed he nor we thought he'd make it through his reflections. A female relative came to offer support and he was able to tearfully press his way. Another fellow followed and he, too, broke down. Mr. Hawkins was a veteran and had retired from the V.A. hospital after 20 years. So did my mom - wonder if they knew each other? His comrades from the local VFW post were in attendance and the commander, an elderly gent, his crisp, multi-emblemed Class A hat jauntily perched on his head, strode to the podium to represent them. He stated that "Hawk was a night owl" (love the play on words!) and he had a habit of showing up at the post right near closing time. Of course the commander would be compelled to keep the establishment open in order to accomodate Hawk and he'd end up shutting it down sometimes at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. And that was that. Mr. Hawkins' Pastor, Kennedy Hampton of Shiloh Baptist in New Haven was the last to be called upon to have remarks. Him was absent.
Gospel Mission's Choir, another of Stef's "babies" was up next to minister. Stefon takes over on the Hammond. AJ thought it would be a good idea if we all went up to sing the James Hall classic, "No Joy, No Strength" with them. "C'mon, y'all know it, right?" Nooooooope. Tory and I remain planted as do a few others. My motto - let the young run. Tory said her feet hurt. Come to think of it, mine did too.
12:00pm - Cards and expressions of sympathy were read along with the obituary/"Scroll of Life". "William will be best remembered by his love for life..."Hawk" would never leave home without being "dressed to impress!" He was always the life of the party and did not mind letting you know he was in the room. William was a generous man." Sounds like Stefon is a chip off the old block....God's Gift, yet another group Stefon sings with prepares to minister. The quartet of young women which includes his niece Jasmine and Stefon on lead synchronize, harmonize, angelicize us with "Great is the Lord." Just beautiful. Pastor Cotton invokes us to worship as they finish and before introducing the Euologist - Reverend Dawna Thomas. This is a treat for me since I'd never heard her preach and I'm all about girl power!
12:27 - Norman sings - I'm sorry, styles the sermonic solo, "Just a prayer away", a capella as he is known to do. Why I didn't record it is anyone's guess...Killed it.
Rev. Thomas is a stunning woman with fine, chiseled features, cheekbones to die for and a perfect smile. Her voice matches her. Elegant and confident but with a calming undertone. Nothing about her says brash or overbearing. She puts me in mind of a favorite teacher - the one who you just knew you were her pet - except everyone else thought they were too! She starts by drawing an analogy between her scripture (John 14:1-6 "Thomas said to Him, 'Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'") and man's natural inclination to NOT ask for directions when clearly lost. It's real simple: Jesus is THE way. The ONLY way. In 13 minutes she put the gospel message DOWN and gave it feet.
12:40: Stefon is summoned for his remarks and although composed, he seems nervous at first. It is a daunting task. He notes that he didn't think he'd be in "this" position so soon in his life. My heart breaks for him. He acknowledges his mom's presence, help and friendship to his Dad, "who ain't even her man!" She shies away from the attention. That's what's up - just 'cause two folks don't make it in the romance realm, there's no reason why they can't remain friends - especially when there are children involved. I mean unless of course somebody's just a flat out jerk. It's obvious the influence his dad had on his life - and how he'd prepared him for life with out him. He said he wasn't sure at one point if he'd have to postpone the funeral. But God. He said he'd attended a concert on Monday night and praised God for all he was worth. A sacrificial praise. On Tuesday everything fell into place. That's what was called for in this time of loss - to wear the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. He admonished us to do the same. Boom and Aaron were on top of it. He ran down off the pulpit to grab one of his aunties from the first row, spoke a Word of healing to her and told her to offer God her praise. Caught a bit off guard, she complied nonetheless before returning to her seat. Another auntie jumped up, shoes flung off, bandaged toe no longer an issue I'd guess and tried to get 1st auntie to join her in a shout. 1st auntie looked at her like she had 2 heads. Did. Not. Budge.
12:50 - Pastor Cotton gives a closing prayer and thankfully includes a call to salvation. So many times this is left out at funerals but for me it's as good a time as any to make that move. Shoot...You could be next. My head was really bowed and my eyes were really closed so I really didn't see who or how many raised their hands in response to the ultimate invitation. All I needed to know was that it was a good day for the Kingdom.
Howard Hill's personnel take over, minus Howard. Guess you can't be everywhere. However, his more than capable staff hold it down, unfurling their now standard gift of a tapestry with the deceased's likeness printed on it. It garners the appropriate "oohs and ahhs" and he majestically draped it over Stefon's back. He wept. We wept.
1:00 - Back outside on this glorious day, I slowly make my way through the crowd towards the sidewalk. Jackie, always a classy chick, is coming back into the church, looking for her son who'd been on the drums. I take the opportunity to grab a hug from her. She tells me she loves my recently chopped down hair - I tell her I love her funky mohawk. I remember now that it was through her that I met Stefon - her baby brother - back when she used to sing with us. I know he'll grieve and he should. But he's got one of the best big sister's there is watching his back. Trust - that's what God created us to do.