It’s Black History Month, a time to reflect on the history, culture and contributions of black people.

It was a Sunday morning in February, and snow was falling. I longed to just laze around the house, but my grandmother, whom I was visiting at the time, would have no part of me “sinning on the Sabbath” by not going to church. (Groan!) I hurried and got dressed and slowly walked with my grandma to Reverend Obadiah Jones’ church, the church my granny had joined as a child.

The church was packed, and everyone was black. We had just sat down on granny’s pew when we had to stand for the opening hymn, the reading of the bible and another song. Wow! The organist was fantastic. After sitting down again, one of the deacons prayed. Granny closed her eyes, shook her head up and down and said “Yes, yes, yes,” as a witness to the deacon’s words.” When the deacon concluded with an amen, Granny said amen, too.

The choir sang a song, after which Rev. Obadiah (as he was called) stepped up to the dais. He was a very old black man and appeared quite frail. As he turned the pages of the bible, his hands shook. “Hmm,” I thought, “Parkinson’s.”

Rev Obadiah looked up from the bible and peered over his glasses at the congregation and smiled. Oh, my! Such warmth! I was filled with a sense of well-being. “Good morning, my brothers and sisters, you soldiers of the Lord,” he said, “I’m glad we’re able to worship together one more Sunday morning. The Lord has given us another day.” Members of the congregation greeted him with good mornings, amen’s, and waved their hands or handkerchiefs.

Rev. O looked down at the bible and said softly, “I want to talk to you today about being soldiers for the Lord. I want to talk to you about being soldiers for what’s right, about not being afraid to speak up,” In a loud voice, Rev asked, “Can I get an amen?” “Amen,” answered members of the congregation.

Rev O continued. “In Psalm 27, verse 1, it says ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I fear?’ Did you hear what the good book says? Of whom shall I fear?” “Yes, yes, yes,” said Granny. “Verse 12 says, ‘The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ Of whom should we soldiers of the Lord be afraid? ‘Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.’ You and I know that liars are all around us and always busy. Why don’t you say amen? Verse 14 says, ‘Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Rev. O paused, took out his handkerchief and wiped his mouth and forehead. “May the Lord bless the reading of these words.”

Rev stared at the congregation for a long time before he spoke again. “When my people, black people, were brought to this country as slaves, most of them didn’t know anything about the Lord we worship now.” “Preach it,” shouted members of the congregation, “Preach it!” “But,” Rev. O continued, “Having knowledge of the Lord now and being able to spout what the bible says isn’t good enough. Do you hear me? When you’re afraid to speak up to defend those being lied on because you’re afraid you’ll lose your job or your friends, where’s your courage and faith in the Lord? When you’re afraid to tell a friend or relative that they’re wrong, when you won’t correct your child because you’re afraid your child won’t love you, when you’re afraid not to own the latest electronic gadget, where’s your courage and faith in the Lord? It was courage and a belief in a higher power that gave our brothers and sisters the strength to risk their lives in the past in the struggle for Civil Rights. Think about that.” By now Reverend Obadiah’s whole body shook. “They risked their lives so that we could have a better life.” “Preach it, Rev,” came shouts from the congregation, “The truth is the light.”

Quietly, Reverend Obadiah said, “Be of good courage, my brothers and sisters, and He shall strengthen thine heart. Pray for courage to be soldiers for the Lord. Amen!” He sat down. The congregation stood and sang “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms.” This had certainly been better than lazing around the house.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...