When I was growing up as a child in Highland Park, Michigan, with my parents and siblings, little did I know that I would be set upon a different path of religion and spiritual journey. Highland Park, once called the beautiful “City of Trees” expressed the liveliness, values and promise of people thriving and surviving to make a prosperous life for their families. As cities change and populations decrease, peers become adults and move away, along with the tax base, some small cities and metropolitan neighborhoods suffered urban decay. Those cities are working toward renewal and reinvention that will take the collective effort of their communities to re-build. It is now the time for those cities to have their defining moment.
Over the years I thought about what was one of the defining moments that set me on a path of my spiritual beliefs. My parents instilled in me their prayers for sure, but my formal introduction into religion was introduced to me by my grandmother Hattie Craig Fletcher and step grandfather Ollie Fletcher. For whatever reasons and at this point it does not matter, I went to church every Sunday with my grandmother at Oak Grove African Methodist Episcopal in Detroit, Michigan. When my grandmother migrated from the south (Arkansas) to the north, she originally joined the Detroit Bethel AME church and then moved to Oak Grove. My grandparents would pick me up every Sunday and we would attend services. I had several adult mentors and teachers who attended the church and also worked for the same school district I attended during my youth and teen years. I would sit in the pew with my grandmother, listening to Reverend David E. Mitcham and his associate pastors give their sermon. Mrs. Mitcham was very kind to me. I also remember the kindness and inspirational words of the church’s woman associate pastor. Young girls could identify with her and thought how strong and brave she was standing at the podium articulating and interpreting the sermon. I remember being thankful that the ministers talked to you rather than at you and they welcomed an informed and educationally aware congregation.
During that time, my grandmother participated in the church activities and she and my mentors encouraged me to participate in youth bible studies and church events. I began to shape my spiritual beliefs, with the combination of the teachings of my parents, ministers, creative ability and most importantly my own journey of reckoning and listening to my inner voice in the way that it is received unto me. Those defining moments are different for everyone. Eventually, my grandmother attended church less frequently due to her developing stages of Alzheimer’s disease and her care was taken over by my sister until her death. We are not perfect people and my grandmother was not perfect but she did pass on a gift that gave me an opportunity to develop a spiritual sense of self, my own piece of balance and centeredness that stays grounded in me no matter what tribulations that surround me at any given point and time. Strife in life is temporary.
As a young adult, I moved across the country with my own family visiting churches, synagogues and temples and these experiences helped me shape spiritual understanding. I continue to pass these spiritual gifts to my children. I have family members who belong to different churches and practice different faith and religions, yet we manage, despite disagreements to come together on shared common values. It means doing the hard steps of giving credit and voice to each other’s stories, coming close to our truths as close as possible, validating the existence of one’s life journey and on the foundational familial relations, writing history as it is rather than what it might be because in those real defining moments there is life and creativity that makes the story bigger than the imagination. I am glad to see denominations increasingly expand their views and programs to include traditionalist to contemporary services as well as recognize the cultural and gender differences even if a church as a whole practices one spiritual belief. The differences and similarities only make humans rich in spirit. I am a Christian who is inclusive of other religious views. There are many religions in the world and I believe people have a right to practice and define their own belief system while respecting the rights of others.
My experiences over the years have shaped me to form religious views that are a combination of primarily Methodist-Episcopal and denominations similar to those beliefs and church governance. After all, no one church or religion can say their right all the time and everybody else is wrong. If that was the case, poverty, hunger, crime, death and many other of life’s problems would be solved once and for all, but those things still exist. So instead of trying to win a game of who is more morally right, let’s address the suffering, pain and social ills of today and that may involve many truths we still do not know because sometimes the answer comes when you know the least. In that unknowing, there just might be a defining moment.
Keep the Faith and stay mentally, spiritually and physically healthy.
Let your innervoice rise -
Gloria J Bailey