Army Captain Albert James was on his way to a funeral. Supervising a staff including a large civilian contingent, he had been notified by one of his best civilian employees that her father had died unexpectedly.
Miriam Washington, one of his section leaders, had called and requested three days of funeral leave to take care of family affairs. While talking with her boss, Miss Washington concluded with her voice nearly breaking, “Captain, I would consider it a personal honor if you would represent the office at the funeral. You would be very welcome.”
Captain James responded softly, “Of course, I will be there, Miss Washington. And I am so sorry for your loss.”
Arriving at the Metropolitan AME Church, the largest African-American church in the city, Captain James looked impressive in his crisp dress blue uniform with all of his decorations. Despite his impressive appearance, however, he was slightly apprehensive.
He had never attended an African-American church service before and he was afraid he might be out of place. He was experiencing the feeling of what it was like to be a minority at an unfamiliar cultural and spiritual event.
Entering the church, he found it nearly full and radiant. There were flowers everywhere and candles glowing. People were dressed in their best and they looked joyous with a tinge of sadness.
He scanned the sanctuary for a seat. Suddenly, a big, burly man, John Adams, a church deacon, grabbed his shoulder and welcomed him.
“You must be Captain James. Miriam asked me to look for you,” he said. “Follow me, sir; you have a special seat.”
He followed Mr. Adams to an aisle seat near the front. He was amazed that his attendance meant so much.
The service was uplifting and bright. The minister, Bishop Spencer, spoke with joy and family eulogies were filled with funny stories about Mr. Adams. Amen was heard throughout the remarks as well as laughter and, of course, some crying with tears of sadness.
Then the choir sang exhilarating, rhythmic versions of traditional Southern spirituals which got the audience clapping and swaying, including Captain James. Everyone was really into the music and the Holy Spirit filled everyone.
At the conclusion of the service, Bishop Spencer closed his benediction with these words:
“May we always laugh as we remember John and his funny stories and zest for life. Life should be happy and joyful. Death should be a celebration. And I know that John right now is probably telling jokes to the angels above us.”
Captain James was impressed. He had been raised in a staid and very stiff conservative church and he suddenly realized that a funeral could be joyful and fun if we believe the truth of everlasting life. Why must a funeral be so somber? After all, if the person we mourn is a Christian he is going home to God.
As he looked for Miss Washington to say goodbye, the large hand of Mr. Adams again clasped his shoulder and he said, “Miriam is downstairs in the social hall, Captain. You must come down and at least have something to eat. She would want that. We have enough to feed the whole Army.”
With a grin he led the Captain downstairs. And what a surprise awaited; there truly was enough to feed an Army. The aroma made his mouth water. There were enormous platters of ham, turkey, beef and fried chicken. Huge bowls of salad and vegetables abounded. Scrumptious cakes, fruit and cream pies and huge coffee and tea urns were in abundance.
Captain James took a plate and tried to sample everything. He found out quickly that the ladies of this church could really cook. Differing textures and flavors complemented each other. No wonder most of the men were robust and happy. They were well taken care of and they knew it.
Finishing, he spotted Miss Washington and approached to pay his respects, saying, “You take the time you need to get things settled and come back to work when you are ready. And thank you for inviting me; I really learned something today.”
She looked at him with slight surprise and said, “And what was that, Captain?”
Captain James responded, “Well, I learned that a funeral doesn’t have to be somber and sad. It can be happy and joyous and people can laugh and tell funny jokes in remembrance. And I’ll bet your father would want it that way.”
She smiled and said, “Amen, Captain, Amen.”
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