Today is Good Friday. Recalling such wonderful memories of the Church’s traditional ‘Seven Last Words’ services.
First to mind is Holy Week 1985, a new ‘kid on the block’ in Brooklyn, freshly appointed Pastor to Bethel United Methodist Church in the Bedford-Stuyvasant community. I can’t for the life of me recall the Church, but, to a packed house, I had the word “Woman Behold thy Son”.
When I stood to preach I began by raising the hymn, “If when you give, the best of your service, telling the world, that the Savior has come. Be not dismayed when men don’t believe you, He’ll understand and say well done”. Now I’ll tell you that I had gotten used to raising those old hymns ‘up east’ with just a couple of folks joining in, but to my surprise the congregation began to sing and rock— sending up a hunger for that ‘down home’ kinda praise like I had not yet experienced. I looked around at my District Superintendent Wilson Boots who had already delivered his word (I must acknowledge him as one of my favorite friends of the Caucasian race); Wilson had a look on his face like he forgot to fasten his seat belt and ‘this plane was airborne’! Needless to say, it was on. Thought I was back in Georgia.
Good Friday at Salem? Nothing like it anywhere on earth. For the three years that I served as Associate Pastor to Salem, it never fell my lot to deliver one of the Seven Last Word. Let me tell you, I continue to bow in awe at just the thought that God would have me sitting in the pulpit ‘at all’ for these services. I always Read Scripture or The Prayer.
As the largest seating capacity Church in Harlem, there was standing room only. Seven of the largest interdenominational collection of Harlem’s Church’s gathered, ‘same time, same place’ every year as their pastor’s delivered the words with their best ‘Broadway musicians’ rendering selection prior to their delivery. Let me see how well my feeble memory serves me. There was Pastor Herman Watts of Friendship Baptist Church; Pastor Jesse Jackson of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church; Dr. Lenton Gunn of St. James Presbyterian Church; Bishop Norman Quick of Child’s Temple Church of God In Christ; Pastor Fred Allen of Metropolitan United Methodist Church; Pastor James Jones of Williams Institutional Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; and Pastor Leslie Wainwright of Shiloh Baptist Church. See the thing is that there was a ‘seniority thing going on’. I don’t know when it started but, the Seventh ‘LAST WORD’ was held by the senior Harlem pastor who at the time was Pastor Leslie Wainwright of Shiloh. The bragging rites when these preachers gathered in The Study for this service was beyond comprehension. You just had to be there. I was around to see the ‘Seventh Word’ change hands upon the death of Pastor Wainwright. His funeral was held at Salem. I did say that I never got a Seven ‘last word in’ at Salem? But, not to worry. Before leaving Harlem for Greensboro, I was blessed to have preached in most all of these Churches.
Recalling on today, delivering one of the Seven Last Words at the call from Pastor Willis Orr of Winter’s Chapel AME in Lebanon. He said to me my word will be “It is Finished”! Of all the times and places that I have delivered one of the Seven Last Words, (always, always, “Woman, Behold thy Son” soooo predictable); this was my very first time to receive this Word. Needless to say, it was on.
Called also to deliver the Easter Sunday Sunrise 6:00 am morning service message at Clark Memorial UMC two days later. “The First Preacher” was the Word— Mary Magdalene. My, my, my.
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