I was telling someone that the other day, that of all the places I’ve served, there is something completely unique about living and working in New Orleans.
Take these situations for example.
I did a funeral one day for a 64 year old man and his 34 year old grandson. One funeral for both men. Study the ages and you quickly see something doesn’t quite add up.
The grandfather had been dead for 10 years and the family had kept his ashes in an urn, and had never had a funeral. When the grandson was murdered, they decided to get two burials for the price of one.
The young man was killed by his wife’s lesbian lover who lived in the house with them. She was of another race, and from what I’ve heard, another species. She was so manly they called her Charlie. When she began ruling the roost, eventually he moved out, but she would not let him take his kids. He kept coming back, of course–his wife and kids are there–and one day in a heated argument with Charlie, she planted a meat cleaver in his skull, then packed him away in the freezer. He was found several days later when family members and friends went searching for him. Charlie and the wife are now serving time in the state penitentiary for women.
The first funeral I had in one of New Orleans’ unique above-ground-cemeteries was back in 1990, just after we moved here from North Carolina. The day before the service,the wife of the deceased’s son said to me, “Now, pastor, tomorrow when we bury Raymond’s mother….” “Yes?” I said. “My mother will be in the casket with her.” I said, “How’s that?”
She said, “We cremated her years ago and haven’t known what to do with the ashes. We found out it’s legal, so just before we seal the casket, we are going to slip the urn inside and then put both their names on the marble slab.”
She got a little gleam in her eyes and said, “Just think–my mother and my mother-in-law in the same casket.” As we laughed, I said, “Did they get along well together?” She had a great answer. “It really doesn’t matter, does it?”
When Garry Harper left our church to pastor in South Carolina, he and I were on the phone one night discussing the differences in serving churches in such disparate sections of the country. South Carolina is Baptistland in my book; and New Orleans is a lot of things, but definitely not the land of the Baptists.
I told Gary, “The other night we had a school program in our sanctuary. We packed out the place with all the students and their parents and family. On the second row was a lesbian couple. One of the women is the mother of one of our students. And a few rows further back was a satanic high priestess who is the grandmother of one of our students. That’s what it’s like pastoring in New Orleans.”
Gary didn’t bat an eye. “That’s nothing,” he said. “Up here in South Carolina we have Methodists.”
We all have our crosses to bear.
Our churches have interesting people in the pews. One of our churches has a showgirl from the French Quarter there every Sunday. She’s actually a member, I’m told, and has belonged to that church for decades. I have no idea to what extent she participates in anything in the life of the church or whether she gives money or prays or anything. But I will tell you in no uncertain terms that she stands out in any crowd, particularly a Baptist crowd. Enough said.
I baptized Marshall and Barbara Sehorn a few years back. In the 50s and 60s, Marshall was a promoter in the Black rhythm and blues industry. He has tales to tell which someone ought to turn into a book. Like the time he toured the country with a busload of Black entertainers and him the only white guy. They pulled into his mother’s driveway one Sunday morning after an all-night drive and she cooked them breakfast. That was Concord, North Carolina, in the days when this sort of thing raised eyebrows and hackles.
Marshall signed Gladys Knight to her first recording contract. In her autobiography, she tells of the time he came to their Atlanta home and persuaded Mrs. Knight to let her 16-year-old sensation Gladys go to New York City with her Pip cousins by inviting the mother to go along. “He was the biggest white man I had ever seen,” she wrote.
In Marshall’s home, you will see a huge framed photo of Paul and Linda McCartney and their daughters alongside Marshall and Barbara. Turns out Marshall produced a record for McCartney and his group “Wings” some years back. Alongwith a couple of friends, Marshall wrote a song “One Way Out” which the Allman Brothers Band scored big with, and which was featured in the “Almost Famous” movie a couple of years back. That’s Marshall’s tag now: “One Way Out.” Ask him about it and he will not mention the song. “It’s all about Jesus,” he will say.
Twenty-five years after Marshall and Barbara were married, they renewed their vows before all the same music crowd who attended their original wedding. They gave a strong Christian witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and a testimony to what He had done in their lives.
Every place is unique, no question about it. Serve the Lord in Poplarville, Mississippi, and you will have people in your congregation unlike anywhere else in the world. The same can be said for Jasper, Alabama, or Beckley, West Virginia, or Laconia, New Hampshire, or your town.
The challenge for the people of the Lord is to speak to the people in the community where we live in terms they will understand. And no one does that better than the local people who have come to know Christ and who then turn around and tell their friends.
That happened in Scripture in a way that still serves as a great role model.
In Mark 5, after a man driven mad by demons was healed by Jesus, he wanted to leave everything and follow Jesus wherever He went. No, said the Lord. “Go home to your friends and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how He has had compassion on you.”
Mark tells us, “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”
Two chapters later–at the end of Mark 7–when the Lord returns to that area, people meet Him bringing their needy friends. Soon a bigger crowd gathers and the Lord performs one of His greatest miracles, the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8).
People tell me, “My neighbor needs the Lord. Pastor, would you go visit them?” I say, “Nope. You go first. The Lord put you next door to them for a reason. They will see me as the professional. But they know you. They believe in you. So you go first. Then, next time I’ll go with you.”
Each one bearing a witness for Christ in our own circle. That’s the plan.