Blessings come down

Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church

Rev. Irving Gray, celebrating his six-year anniversary at the church, poses with his wife, Janice, and his 11th grandchild.

Rev. Irving Gray, celebrating his six-year anniversary at the church, poses with his wife, Janice, and his 11th grandchild.

Photo By Nicholas Higman

Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, 1810 Helena Ave, 329-6260. Services are held on Sundays at 11 a.m.

It’s 10 minutes before the start of the 11 a.m. Sunday morning service at the Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Most of the congregation has taken a seat in the worship hall. Others get coffee, doughnuts and give a brief hello to friends in the basement of the church, where Sunday school was held earlier in the day. The spirit is high and laughter fills both rooms of the church as the reverends and elder head toward the pulpit. The piano player briefly tries a few keys as though stretching her fingers.

One of the reverends at the front of the church informs the congregation the service is about to begin as four singers stand behind the pianist for the start of the music. People are still slowly filtering into the church hall, men dressed sharply in suits and ties, women with immaculate hair or wearing beautiful hats find a place in one of the 18 soft-seated wooden pews, while restless children are hushed and the singing begins. The first song consists of three words, “Thank You, Lord,” and though the lyrics are simple, the passion put into those sung words moves some to tears before the song is completed.

The leaders of the congregation kneel at the front of the church and begin to pray. “Strengthen us in a mighty way, Lord,” one man offers in prayer, “when prayers go up, blessings come down.” The prayers continue to include both those present and those unable to attend, with many people offering encouragement with an “amen.”

The congregation is asked to rise for the procession of the choir and 14 people enter the church swaying and singing as they make their way to fill two of the six pews behind the pulpit. The band begins as the choir sings. Piano, drums and bass guitar accompany the rhapsody in song which nearly shakes the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, as voices fill the room all the way to the wooden beams at the steeple of the church. The music and singing is potent, unique, and just as a song seems as though it is about to end, an encore is begun, raising people to their feet again.

A member of the church walks to the front and stands beside the choir, asking all visitors to stand and give their name so the congregation can meet them. “Please, feel welcome,” she says with a smile to all the visitors. “If you wanna take your shoes off and run down the aisle, feel free. I may just do the same.”

Prayer time is called for the church and every member clasps hands in the center of the aisle to say the Lord’s Prayer. Once everyone is reseated, Rev. Irving Gray speaks briefly of his six-year anniversary with the church, “Thank God for you all,” he concludes before introducing Pastor Peele from Greenville, N.C.

Peele begins his sermon by saying, “We ought to be careful how we entertain strangers. … For they might secretly be angels.” The focus of Peele’s sermon is Hebrews 2:3, dealing with the neglect of salvation. He walks out into the congregation as he speaks, “Diligently seek God, he will not turn you away.”

The service is brought to a close as one of the church deacons asks if anyone in the congregation who would like to be saved. Four people come forward, Gray tells a brief story about their family history and ends by saying, “If the Rapture don’t come, we’ll take you to the water next Sunday.”