Southern black churches were a gathering place for worship, education, and social activities. For those that lived in rural areas, the lack of transportation required that the churches be near them. Therefore, they were dotted around the country side.
Two denominations were most prevalent: Methodist and Baptist. The Methodist organization required formal education, training, and certification for the pastors. It was difficult to maintain a full time pastor in the country churches. They experienced more success in the urban environment, where larger communities could support the clergy and entice them to stay. However, the Baptist Church allowed more freedom regarding the pastor’s credentials. The flexibility allowed the community to worship, even in the absence of a certified pastor.
As people acquired transportation, the formal town churches grew and the country churches began to disappear. Dedicated parishioners tried to keep them alive. Even when they lacked an official pastor and the membership had dwindled to a few, they continued to gather each week with the people who were close friends and trusted confidantes.
In Silent Ties one of those country churches is the scene of Tucker James’s funeral. The days of the big revivals and large gatherings that often included the local white families are over. It is the church of Miss Ada’s childhood, where James was raised, and where the family continues to worship. Although there are few remaining members, it is a place of comfort and support in good times and in bad.
Missy shares what she sees of this community on that sad day. We are left to imagine what this church is to the people and the love that binds them together. For more reading I encourage you to explore the essay “Of the least and the most. The African American Rural Church” by Lois E. Meyers and Rebecca Sharpless. It can be found in the book African American Life in the Rural South 1900-1950, edited by R. Douglas Hurt.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana