I have long been a “church going” person. For me, attending church on a regular basis stems from my upbringing in a very religious household. As a result of my parent’s guidance, when I was seven, I was baptized, at White Rock Baptist Church’s old 52nd and Arch Street location under the pastoral leadership of W. C. Williamson. From my youth until the present, I have maintained active church memberships at White Rock Baptist Church, then Greater White Rock Baptist Church and now, for the past forty years, Salem Baptist Church; a place you can find me practically each Sunday. My belief in God and church attendance are important aspects of my existence. Because of the COVID pandemic, Salem’s Sunday services have been virtual, using YouTube or Face book for the past two years. Our last in-person church service was, interestingly, on Palm Sunday of 2020. I did physically attend two church services, at the invitation of my Pastor, the Reverend Marshall Paul Hughes Mitchell on special occasions during this time; these services were limited to a handful of worshipers. I also participated in several funeral services. But on this Palm Sunday, Salem Baptist Church, returned to in-person worship service which gave me the opportunity to resurrect memories of Palm Sundays, back in the day.
As I thought about physically returning to church today, I could not avoid thinking back to the days when our church was located in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. What came to mind was not just services on Palm Sunday, but on every Sunday and for every activity held at our Summit Avenue location. Like many churches, parking was a real challenge. Church members had to “jockey” for places to park and parking tickets became a regular source of revenue for Jenkintown Borough as illegal parking was the only option in many instances. I would generally arrive very early for our second church service and double park until someone left from our early service. What a nightmare! You may have noticed that I referred to our second church service as the size of our sanctuary dictated two services for those in attendance. But for today’s Palm Sunday Service, I could arrive and find parking on our new, ten-acre campus in Roslyn Pennsylvania with parking accommodations for 500 plus cars. There would be sufficient space to accommodate a body of thirteen hundred participants. What a relief to begin church service in a hassle-free manner, unlike our experiences at our old facility in Jenkintown, back in the day.
Our Pastor warned church members during last week’s virtual service to be considerate and cooperative with regard to seating. At Salem, many people have what they consider to be their designated seat. Admittedly, I fall into this category. Unlike some members, however, I do not attempt to get people to move if they are sitting in what I consider to be my seat. Seating was certainly on my mind as we returned to church today. Two years ago, a capital improvement campaign provided an opportunity for members to purchase a pew, with a plaque affixed identifying their names or the names of loved ones. My wife and I did just that and I was anxious to sit on my pew for the first time during a worship service, particularly on this Palm Sunday. In order to avoid any issues with someone else being in my “so-called” seat, I made it a point to arrive early to sit in a seat on “my pew.” I had no designated pew at Salem Baptist Church or any church, back in the day.
Arriving at church early was planned to allow me to interact with friends and acquaintances that I had not seen in two years or more. While I knew that this would be a joyous occasion, I also knew there would be moments of pain as I reflected on many that were present on Palm Sunday 2020 who would not be there this Palm Sunday as they have gone to glory. Many of our church members that had passed could not be afforded the customary traditional funeral as was the case back in the day. But I knew that they would be with us in spirit today. I remember their presence in our old church and our new church, and I paused to look around and imagine their faces here today.
Hopefully, today is the beginning of a new day; a day that will eventually become a memory from back in the day. Besides the memories of the past that I have mentioned, we will again join together to pray, to sing, to listen to a moving sermon that is typical of our Pastor, and we will receive Palm leaves that many of us will take home and place behind a picture on our walls, as a matter of tradition. So, on this special Sunday, being able to physically return to church, will resurrect special memories of Palm Sunday not only from two years ago, but for many years attending church services, back in the day.