‘A Celebration of Faith’ – My experience at Canaan Baptist Church.

James Baldwin
Le, Guy. “James Baldwin – Kinfolk”. Kinfolk, 2019, https://kinfolk.com/james-baldwin/.

OPEN QUESTION

In consultation with your lecturer design a topic of your own that reflects the impact of your visit to New York on your understanding of the literature of this city. Your topic can be either critical or creative or both.

“Oh how I love the name Jesus
It is the sweetest name I know”

‘Something about the name Jesus” – Kirk Frankin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxksjhN1Qv4

I felt extremely grateful to be welcomed into the Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem to congregate with them for a gospel service. Upon engaging in this spiritual experience, I was blown away by not only the differences I could immediately identify in comparison to my own churching experience back in Australia, but also the level of interactivity, sense of community and the passionate emotional responses from the church congregation.

The service also greatly enhanced my understanding of the novel written by James Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain. When first reading this novel, I found it hard to relate to the main protagonist, John and his family, mainly because of the passionate and steadfast commitment to the church and God. He and his family’s experience in his church ‘The Church of the Fire Baptized’, was filled with all consuming emotion, screams, cries and the force of the holy spirit. It left no room for error and would publicly reprimand anyone who fell out of line. As much as I can observe the extreme differences between John’s experience at ‘The Church of the Fire Baptized’ and my experience at Canaan Baptist Church, I can also appreciate some similarities. Firstly, the sense of community was overwhelming. In the novel we see this when the members of the community call each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. In the Harlem church this was evident in a magnitude of ways. Most obviously was when we were asked, at the end of the service, to join hands with the people beside us. We all swayed together, with joint hands to the heavenly sounds of the gospel choir and four-piece band. We were personally welcomed by the head minister and encouraged to participate wholeheartedly. This made me a feel a part of their church community, even if it was just for that one service.

The main thing that I observed form this service, was that it was a celebration of faith, not only a practice of religion. That to me is what made the Canaan Baptist Church so special and unique to any other service I have been a part of. In Baldwin’s novel, John’s father claimed “that all white people were wicket”, yet on this day there was no point in time where I felt unwelcome or frowned upon. Some lyrics from one of the songs sung at the service struck a particular cord with me, especially after witnessing the emotional response of one of the male choir singers, who has a personal breakthrough with God on the altar. “Something about the name Jesus, it is the sweetest name I know, oh how I love the name Jesus”. These words resonated with the members of this congregation and I felt as though it was a fitting end for this blog, the sheer love and faith these humans had for Jesus was overwhelming, and the pure emotions reached through and connected me to them.

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