Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Here, let me say this first. If you are a person of faith in Northern Nevada, and you feel yourself part of the spiritual community, you owe it to yourself and to the community to attend the (re)dedication of the historic African-American church in Reno at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 20. It’s the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church at 220 Bell St. in Reno, and it will become Northern Nevada’s African-American Cultural Center. My feeling is each person who attends will help the celebration, so call your pastors and get the e-mail lists cooking. If Hunter’s and my experiences at the Bethel A.M.E. Church are any indication, it’s going to be a rockin’ time. Call 355-9030 for more information.
We were greeted at the door by Gregory Lewis, who graciously led us into the sanctuary. I sat down and, as is my custom, began taking notes of the design of the sanctuary, but I wasn’t able to get very far because people kept coming up and introducing themselves. It was absolutely charming. The sanctuary is rather small, with seating for about 130 people plus choir on padded wooden pews. Thematically, it’s blues, tans and whites. In the peak of the peaked ceiling, there were a couple skylights, one of which had a colorful, stained glass pattern. The altar had seats for six or seven people. Three of the chairs were larger and more ornate. A bit toward the front of the stage was a small lectern flanked to the front with two seven-candle candleholders. Above and behind the altar was a stylized wooden cross on which the crossed beams came to points on the ends. At the top was a representation of the crown of thorns. It’s an elegant little church.
The music was mostly electronic, although the choir—made up of about a dozen young people—was singing its collective heart out. People were rocking, singing along, clapping their hands, the atmosphere was charged. It seemed everyone was excited to be here, and the excitement was infectious. Even Hunter was clapping along, although I notice he’s got his daddy’s sense of rhythm—he doesn’t even clap on the off-beats. His off-beat rhythm made us stand out almost as much as the fact that we were the only two white people in the church.
This was the dressiest church I’ve ever been in. I don’t believe I saw any blue jeans, but more than that, I saw perfectly pressed business suits and ties on men, and dresses and pant suits on the women. Lewis gave the opening prayer, thanking the Lord for the benefits the congregation received during the week, and proclaiming the courage given by God.
I’m going to break my format of the step-by-step description of the service (second time in three weeks, maybe it’s not my format anymore).
Early in the service, everybody got up and wandered around the room greeting everyone, shaking hands with the men and hugging the women. I’m not sure, but I think I touched 75 or 80 percent of the people in that building.
The sermon, given by Presiding Elder Rev. Dr. Vernon S. Burroughs (Pastor Rev. Terry McCray Hill had to catch a plane that morning), was titled, “What’s your DNA?” He began the sermon with a little science lesson of what, on a molecular level, DNA is. Rev. Dr. Burroughs is one of the most inspiring speakers from the pulpit I’ve heard. I don’t have much room, but the crux of the sermon is this: We are all the children of God, and that’s what’s in our DNA.
“We are God’s children and can’t nobody change that,” he said. “We don’t have to wait for society. … We are God’s children now. … We have a glorious future. We are God’s children, and we shall be like him. You are not poor because you are a child of the King. Not only will we see him as he is, but we shall be like him.”