We got lost on the way to Sepulga Baptist Church. We ended up wandering through forty miles of Alabamian countryside to find it.
“Honey,” said my wife, after an hour driving. “We’ve passed that same barn ten times now.”
So, I pulled into a squatty general store, next to a forest overgrown with kudzu. A dilapidated place where you can buy everything from Red Man chew to Georgia Pacific toilet paper.
I asked directions. The lady behind the counter spat dark spit into a Styrofoam cup, saying, “Go ’bout a quarter mile d’rectly up yonder ’til y’all hit a fork, hold right a few miles furr’ an’ y’all’re smack-dab at Sepulga. Got it, darlin’?”
She sent me away with a Ziploc of pecans—no charge.
When we reached the church, it was a little white building with only one truck out front. The Sepulga congregation consists of nine people who all pronounce the word, “power,” like, “par.” And on this particular day, the crowd was a few shy of a baseball team.
Once folks found their seats, seventy-nine-year-old Brother John called from the pulpit, “How’re you feeling today, Ricky?”
An elderly man hobbled to his feet, thumbs hitched in his suspenders. “Brother John, I have good days and bad days.”
“How about today?”
“Today is my day.”
A few people clapped.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Brother John went on. “Folks, I hope we don’t forget, when one of us suffers, we all do.”
This roused some amens.
“If you would,” he went on. “Join me in praying for Sister Ebbie, Miss Wilner, Jill Lowery, Miss Lambeth, Brother Bill, Judy Hillman, and Deloris’ sister, who’s having a hard time.”
Then, we bowed our heads.
All anyone could hear was the window-unit air conditioner. Brother John didn’t open his mouth to pray. There was only silence among eight rural individuals sitting together in this two-room shack they call Sepulga.
Brother John sniffed and wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry to carry on, crying like this,” he said. “But ain’t we the lucky ones? How short life is, ain’t it juss a privilege to be together?”
The old woman beside me wrapped her arm in mine.
Service was short. They fed us lunch afterward, I ate enough fried chicken to make myself sick. All eight strangers hugged me; six of them told me they loved me. One woman gave me a jar of homemade jelly.
Maybe this world really has gone to the dogs, like they say on TV. I don’t care if it has.
They’re doing just fine over in Sepulga.