Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895-1913

Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895-1913

Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895-1913

Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895-1913

Synopsis

The Church at Worship is a series of documentary case studies of specific worshiping communities from around the world and throughout Christian history that can inform and enrich worship practices today. In this third volume, Longing for Jesus, Lester Ruth vividly portrays a prominent African-American holiness church in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early twentieth century.

Ruth's rich selection of primary documents presents readers with a vibrant snapshot of this dynamic church and its pastor, Charles Price Jones, caught between factors that threatened the existence of the congregation itself: Jim Crow racism, conflicting visions for the church, appropriate Christian piety, and social aspirations. In the midst of conflicts inside and outside, the church fought to create a space where it could worship Jesus as it saw fit.

Excerpt

At the start of the twentieth century, a city cemetery sat across the street from Christ Tabernacle (or Temple), a new church in Jackson, Mississippi. the juxtaposition of the two could not have been more ironic. On one side of the street lay the resting bodies of governors, mayors, and Confederate soldiers and generals, scattered among the corpses of other notables and average citizens. On the other side of the street rose the church of one of the most vibrant, dynamic black congregations in Mississippi, if no writer named Charles Price (or C. P.) Jones.

With Jones at the helm, Christ Tabernacle was working hard to worship God in a way true to the Bible and true to its members. the task of remaining true to its members was a particularly challenging struggle at the time. the church juggled its members’ heritage as black Christians, including practices and perceptions that reached back even to the days of slavery, with what it meant to be a public church in tumultuous social and religious times. It was a church whose members and pastors were trying to carve out a niche for themselves as African-American Christians as the Civil War faded, a new century dawned, and Jim Crow racism lurked in the shadows. What would the worship of such a congregation be like?

That such a congregation could be started at all was a startling development of the late nineteenth century, dependent upon two major reversals that occurred in America’s first hundred years. Christ Temple could not have been imaginable just a few decades previous to its start, not to mention at the start of the nation. Yet as the twentieth century began, an enterprising black pastor could plant a church with vitality and influence felt across the nation.

One reversal that cleared the way for Christ Temple was the American Civil War and the resulting emancipation of slaves. This emancipation and the Reconstruction that followed allowed African-American worship to become public with the rise of black churches everywhere. That was not possible prior to the war. a few black congregations had existed, as had a handful of black denominations, mainly in the North. Blacks also worshiped with predominantly white congregations. But a large part of the black worship experience existed in the “invisible institution” — that is, the secret worship lives of slaves. They engaged in their

1. the church was sometimes called Christ Tabernacle in its early years.

2. the African Methodist Episcopal Church is an example.

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