Theatre Camp!
Volume 3 Book 3 Part 7 of
Living in the Bonus Round

Lake Ave. Baptist Church.

[ Book 3-2 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 3-4 ]

February 14-18, 2003.
I Am The Preacher!

On Sunday morning, as I sat in the front pew at Lake Ave. Baptist Church here in Rochester, NY, I had one of the most horrifically sad moments of my life. In fact, the realization I had there at that moment was SO overwhelming that I found myself putting it out of my head in order to focus on what was about to happen and why Jimmy and I were there.

We were there because of a last minute, totally impromptu invitation by the pastor, Peter Carman, after he and his wife (a minister for the United Methodist Church) had seen The Big Voice the night before. It was in the receiving line after the show when Jimmy and I shake hands with the audience on the way out. Peter came up to me and said, "Would you be part of my sermon in the morning? I'll go five minutes and then I'll introduce you and you'll go 15."

Wait a minute. Just get up in the front of the church during the main sermon and start talking?

Without hesitation (but with a slight lump in my throat) I said, "Okay."

The next morning, Jimmy and I drove over to Lake Ave. in the van. It was an exceptionally cold morning and there was new snow on the roads as we turned south on the 590 to get back into Rochester from the little suburb where we are staying. Jimmy saw the gas gauge was nearly on empty.

He asked me, "Should we stop?"

I said, "It starts soon. If we see something on the way and it's easy, we can put in a few bucks just to get us there."

But there was no gas station on the way and worse, we were trying to make our way there by MY memory of having gone there last year. I knew we had to turn right on some street and then follow it out looking for a church set way back in a little traffic triangle on the left. The gas is running low. No stations are to be found.

"There it is!" We passed it but then turned around and parked in the deep white snow. Stupidly, I hadn't charged my batteries so we have only a few photos.

Peter saw me as I came in and said, "I hadn't planned on this particular scripture verse to coincide with what you're going to say, so if there's a connection and you find it, go with it. I think I'm not even going to introduce you at the beginning of the service, but rather start my sermon and when I feel it's time, I'll just turn it over to you."

I gulped.

Does the reader understand what's happening? If not, let me recap. I have no idea what I'm going to say. I have no idea what he's going to say. And it's all going to start off with a passage of scripture which I haven't heard yet. He's going to get up, start his sermon and then just give me the microphone.

He did make one request clue. He said, "If you want to sing..."

If I want to sing. As if there's ever been a time when I didn't want to sing...

"...If you want to sing, I think that part of the song where you say, 'If God has hands, they're your hands'" would be perfect. Then he turned and walked up to the dais.

Rev. Peter Carman in his really colorful stole. The colors looked really vibrant up against his black robe. In fact, when I saw it I said, "I've never seen a Baptist preacher wearing robes. He retorted, "We're High Baptists." That made me laugh.
I've just GOT to get one of those outfits.

Jimmy took a few pictures as unobtrusively as possible. Natural lighting so they're a bit fuzzy but you can get a glimpse.

What I like about Lake Ave. Baptist is the fact that it's a truly mixed age / race / gender / sexual orientation congregation. Black and white. Old and young. Gay and straight. Kids. Adults. Everything.

The congregation's first song was an African American Spiritual. This was followed closely by a reading celebrating Black History Month. Rochester was one of the first cities to establish the Underground Railroad which spirited slaves out of the south and hid them, so the story was about a man who helped start the Underground in a church there.

And that's where I had my "moment."

I looked beside me and saw this black woman sitting near me. As I heard the story, I looked at her and realized that in another day and age, this beautiful woman would have been a slave. I almost couldn't bear the thought of it. I also thought, "I know part of my message is to talk about the pain that is suffered by gay and lesbian people who get rejected by their churches, synagogues and families -- after all, I'm speaking from my own life experience -- but does any of that even remotely compare to slavery?"

Luckily, Pastor Peter knew exactly what he was doing. The next part of the service was a message for the children. Peter talked about having grown up in India where people were/are segmented into castes. By way of illustration, he began pointing out rows of people and asking them to stand. Then he said, "Those people are only kind of okay."

Pointing at others he said, "Those people are better." He asked others to stand and said, "Oh, but these people are just terrible." Then he asked one last pew of people to stand. "Those people are so untouchable and so undesirable we're going to make them walk out and stand in the hallway."

And they did.

Then he told them how Gandhi demanded the end of the caste called the untouchables. Peter explained, "Gandhi said they were human beings and should never be thought of as unclean or unworthy."

After dismissing the kids, the bible story was a situation where Jesus had touched a leper and healed him, but in so doing became unclean in the eyes of the religious authorities. So he was forced into the countryside where he was then besieged by other "untouchables" who had also been excluded.

And, this is where my memory starts to get fuzzy. Somehow, in talking about the unclean he introduced me. He heard him say, "I don't know what Steve thinks, but as far as I'm concerned he is a Baptist and a Gospel singer. Steve?"

Steve talking in front of the church.
Do I look like my dad?

I spoke about 15 minutes. I talked about some of the miracles that have happened to me through my website and our musical, about people reaching out and touching me, and how our show reached out and touched others. Then I finished by sitting at the piano and singing the last of Where Is God?

If God has hands, they're your hands.
If God has eyes, they're your eyes.
And if God is love, it's your love.

At the end of the song, I led the congregation in singing it with me. After I finished, I sat down and a woman got up to speak. I guess it was her job to take it from there but she stood front and center, her eyes began to tear up and she found herself completely choked up. She looked beatific.

"That's all right!" someone shouted from the audience.

"We're with you!" someone else said.

Finally, unable to speak, she called the Gospel choir to join her and they sang a hymn together.

Oh, and we found fuel on the way home. No getting stranded in the snow.

[ Book 3-2 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 3-4 ]
© 1996-2003 by Steve Schalchlin.
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