Christmas is over, but my own mind has been fixated on a Christmas Eve service in a downtown Baton Rouge church. The colorful scene was complete with candles and all the symbols of baby Jesus born in a manger.
The sermon reminded the congregants of how the first Christmas was celebrated among the poor, the marginalized and the outcast.
The minister said that in January he would be speaking on “community” and how we all could be more in community to those around us.
Upon leaving the Sunday service, I proceeded down North Boulevard away from downtown.
An area surrounding North Boulevard had caught my attention a few weeks before. Back in November, I was leaving the military cemetery after Veteran’s Day prayers when I got “lost.” I was hardly lost; it was just a part of town where I normally do not travel.
A huge church appeared on the scene. It was surrounded by a wide, open expanse of streets and a large parking lot. The structure seemed empty. It was right in the middle of what must have once been a thriving area.
A little research revealed what one would expect. The original congregation had long since left. The church, organized in 1917, had merged with another in 1967. Records showed a membership of 2,200 members at the time. But soon after an April 1967 vote to merge, the members had all dispersed to a new church home or elsewhere.
Much around the church had changed in 1960s and 1970s.
Now the area was quiet, virtually devoid of traffic. I could see rusting warehouses and tall fences, but there was not much moving anywhere along the barren streets.
A small dog trotted along the sidewalk, stopping to lick the remains of a hamburger wrapper. I, too, stopped and opened a couple of cans of dog food from the animal food kit I keep in the back of my truck. She quickly gulped down the food.
While kneeling on the concrete to feed the dog, a man in a wheelchair rolled up. He pulled out a VA photo card. He needed a few dollars, he said. About the same time, a woman with a bulging laundry bag thrown over her shoulder paced briskly down the middle of the street.
Was the laundry bag going to a laundry mat, or did it represent her life’s possessions?
I drove back to a familiar street and stared once more at the huge church with the two tall cupolas jutting into the sky. I remained a few minutes to wonder what difference it would have made had the congregation chosen to stay. How many others in the community were like the man in the wheelchair, the woman with the bag and the stray dog?
Now that it is January, I am waiting to hear what the pastor will tell us about “community.”
The man in the wheelchair, the woman with the bag and the stray dog are waiting, too.
— Comer lives in Plaquemine
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