Monday, April 1, 2013

A visit to a Baptist Church

Just getting started
by Richard Mellor

I just returned from a funeral service.  The father of one of my long time and closest friends passed away at the age of 95.  His son and I were part of the leadership of our Union at various times and he was the President of it at one point.  The Church, the Bible Faith Baptist Church in East Oakland was his father's church, Moses Cain 2nd.  Not in the sense that he attended it, but he built it and was the pastor.

Anyone that's been to these churches is aware of the atmosphere, the music, singing, the praising the lord, the preacher working the congregation telling them this is a time to be happy not sad. "The Holy Ghost is trying to get in," the preacher said when he thought the congregation was not significantly involved, "I'm fittin' to change the atmosphere in here."  My days in the English Catholic Church were not like this.

There was time allotted for people to speak of Pastor Cain and what he and his family meant to them in their lives, after all, this was a family church really.  It was very moving to hear these folks talk about what a good man he was and his family.  The family lived in a part of Oakland that is within what is referred to as the "Killing Zone" due to the internecine gang wars and murders of young black men by the police that take place in the area. But Pastor Cain was the father to everyone in the neighborhood people said.   He gave advice to all the young people or anyone else who needed help.

One woman in her seventies spoke of how he had advised her after she got married years ago.  The preacher reminded her of what the Bible says about the need to honor and obey your husband. She described having a difficult time with that one; was hesitant.  She got a lot of laughs as she was quite a character, a powerful working  class woman.  She questioned him about that as her husband was staying out late, going to bars, clubs and the like. Pastor Cain basically told her that if her husband wasn't leading a righteous life then she was not obligated to obey him.  She described it as her husband not following the Lord of course, after all, it was a church. But she said it was the right advice given that she disagreed with what her husband was doing. It is hard to captivate such a mood in writing but she was wonderful and I could see the women present liked it. The gist of it was that she was right and her husband was wrong; the "Obey" law is null and void.

Others talked further about what the pastor and his family had meant to their community as children, neighbors and friends.  He was born in 1917.

I had no intention of speaking partially because I felt it not right as I'm not a Christian, I don't go to church or even believe in god; this isn't a political meeting after all.  But as I am so fond of telling others who have tried to tell me when and when not it is appropriate to raise politics: "Everything in life is political."  Hearing all the others describe the role he played in their lives and the community in general and then reading the description in the program,  I too felt a need to express why I was there as a means of paying respect to him and his family. I have always felt comfortable in that church.

Though not a churchgoer I have visited that building for more than 25 years; we met there during the strike of 1985 sometimes.  I also met Pastor Cain and his wife briefly after being introduced to the family through my friend and union fighter Marvin.  When I visited their home I felt welcome there too.  I got to know his daughters, Marvin's wife Rebecca, and his brother Moses, as we worked at the same place. 

But Marvin and I became friends though the struggle against the boss. At work, he was a fighter for all people.  When we first met we were sitting in a dump truck and I was espousing the merits of socialism.  He listened attentively and when I'd finished talking, eagerly awaiting his thoughts about what I'd said, he pointed to the watch on his left hand,

"What is socialism going to do about this," he said.

Strange question I thought to myself thinking he was concerned about the watch. After a confused "Huh?" from me, he repeated it and it became clear he was talking about being black in America. So we had a long, further more detailed discussion about that and the rest is our history.

So that little church and the family that created it has a place in my life too.

When I spoke I said that and how I was political and was grateful to have known this family, especially my friend.  But I read that paragraph about his father in the program.  I said that he was a leader, a worker's and community leader. He was a teacher to the young people in the community.  More than one man spoke about the skills he'd taught them.  One laughed about churning ice cream in the back yard and using a sickle, or he might have meant a scythe which is a tool I was very familiar with. I also pointed out that his being the first Black American to get a job at a local manufacturing plant was a historic event and should not be forgotten that it took place when it did in so-called democratic America.

I found the words I wanted to share when I said that those who are held up as successful and leaders in our society, those our children are supposed to emulate are what I call "coupon clippers."  They do no productive Labor unlike Pastor Cain had done all his life and they suck the life blood out of our communities unlike Pastor Cain who gave to the community, served it and was a leader in it to the extent that he could be.  That he found strength to do this through his faith is not a bad thing.  I sort of liken these churches, so many of them small congregations, to the liberation theologists in the Catholic Church that the popes of  Rome helped smash.  They serve the working class and the poor and within any institution its class content matters.

As the congregation responded to the pastor's calls for celebration and praising I wanted to video it and was given permission but somehow I felt I shouldn't but did take one picture you see above. 

The program had a short piece on him:

"Moses was a cook at the Oakland Army Base. He was the first African-American employee hired by the Gerber Baby Food Plant in East Oakland.  He retired from there as a machinist.  He taught the children in the neighborhood gardening, landscaping, painting, roofing, general construction and other skills that he used around the community.  Many of the young men in the area regarded him as the neighborhood dad."

Working class history is fortunately full of such leaders, they are often the glue that holds the fabric together and at work, when they become involved in workers organizations as so many of them do, they strengthen our class in the struggle against the bosses. "Our" leaders don't make the history channel and if they do, they don't do it right.

If I wondered where my friend got his fighting spirit I can see that his father instilled it in him.

No comments: