Posts Tagged ‘ Jerusalem Baptist Church ’

Jerusalem Baptist Church – Visited on 11/27

The fields of southwest Clover, SC are a lonesome place come late November.  The grass fades to brittle browns and yellows.  Farmers’ fields stand empty, harvested bare, just beginning their long sleep till spring.  The trees that surround every enclave of civilization in the Carolina piedmont stretch the twisted, grey fingers of their branches towards overcast skies, shrouded in tattered veils of brown, withered leaves.

That was the state of the countryside on the morning of the 27th, when the congregation of Jerusalem Baptist Church gathered for their morning worship at 11 AM.  Their church is a stout, two-story brick building, surrounded by fields and a venerable graveyard.  In truth most of the church’s followers arrived well in advance of the official worship service—twenty-one people were present for that morning’s Sunday School class, which began at 9:45 that morning.

They took their seats in the church sanctuary, an oblong hall with white walls and ceilings set with two large banks of pews and two choir lofts to either hand, arranged in an arc around the raised stage of the pulpit and the seats of the church’s ministers.  Behind the choir lofts glowed stained glass windows, their finely graven panels depicting scriptural scenes and abstract designs.

Though the church had seating enough for several dozen, the full congregation that day reached around thirty persons.  Those thirty arrived in their Sunday best, men in suits and women in dresses and hats, children in tow.  The congregation was primarily older, though a few young couples and young adults were present.

A Southern Baptist church, Jerusalem maintains its denomination’s tradition of a strong deaconate.  The deacons, lay ministered elevated from the congregation, officiated most of the worship service, leading prayers, taking up tithes and providing announcements while the church’s pastor, the Reverend Robert Gingles, looked on from his seat behind the pulpit.  Perhaps most importantly, they led the congregation in song.

Almost every group and congregation visited by Churchspotting has used some music in their worship services, but Jerusalem Baptist’s presentation was unique.  There was no band, nor was a single instrument played during the whole service.  Instead the hymns begin with a single voice taking up some tune and lyric known to the rest of the congregation by long tradition and repetition.  A few more voices rise to follow the first, and with them come percussion—feet stomping in time on the sanctuary floor, hands clapping.

Gradually more worshippers add themselves to the hymn until the whole church vibrates with stomps, claps and uplifted voices.  Though less than half the church’s capacity, that morning’s congregation managed to fill the arched and airy spaces of the sanctuary with their voices.  It was quite unlike any other musical devotion witnessed by Churchspotting.

The other two highlights of that morning’s service were the group prayer and the sermon itself.  About midway through the service, Jerusalem Baptist’s deacons called for anyone in the congregation who wished to gather in a circle on the open floor between the pews and the pulpit.  There they prayed, taking it in turns to voice their devotions.  These prayers could go at length, with lay members of the congregation spinning off into small sermons of their own.

The sermon itself dominated the second half of the worship service.  It marked the first time during that morning’s worship that the pastor himself stood behind his pulpit and spoke.  Rev. Gingles is a short, lean older man.  His hair has gone white with age, and glowed beneath the sanctuary’s electric lamps.  Gingles has pastored Jerusalem Baptist for twelve years, and his long familiarity with the congregation showed as he stood and addressed the crowd, welcoming those who’d been absent from illness.

That morning’s sermon concerned itself chiefly with an episode from the New Testament Gospels where Jesus is invited to a dinner at the home of his apostle Matthew, a former tax collector.  There he spends time with Matthew’s friends, “sinners and publicans,” and rebukes criticism over  his choice of associates by declaring that he came for such as them, not those already righteous.  The more Rev. Gingles preached the greater his confidence and ease seemed to grow; his voice took on a rhythmic, almost musical quality as he extended the message of the scriptural passage to say that his savoir came for “the jacked up, the messed up.”

Services at Jerusalem Baptist conclude with what’s called an “invitational hymn.”  As the congregation takes up their final song of the day the reverend calls on anyone in the audience who feels in need of salvation to step forward.  No one made such a bold move that morning.  As the last song faded the reverend gave his benediction, and the congregation dispersed into the cloudy November day.

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