I used to live in the world
he told me
but maybe you don’t know about living in the world, since you’ve always been in the Church. It’s like those young guys, you know, who hang out on the street corners—I used to be like one of them: cussin, wastin my time, I was in the world.
But that was until I found the church.
And he wasn’t talking about our church, either. His name is Brother Walker and my more-in-tune wife was sensitive enough to invite him and his wife to our house for dinner when we met them at Church last week. And so it was that, over heavenly salmon and amazing peach cobbler, brother and sister Walker sat across from us—around a table hardly big enough for two—and told us their rather remarkable story.
He is a tall man, with a chestnut complexion and a salty goatee—a commanding presence with a resonant heavenly voice. His wife is smaller, with a penchant for bashfully looking away, especially when she laughs, and a poof of white hair illuminating her wizened face; she wore a doily on her head the first time she came to Church.
She was sixteen
He told me
When we married—and I was eighteen. That was fifty-four years ago now—that’s been a long, long time.
And then they looked at each other wistfully, memory’s current flowing between them:
We both love to study, but we were so young when we married, we got our education late, we had to be workin, after all, to support ourselves. But we went to college at night—I got my BA in eight years, in psychology, and then I started workin at a school for retarded children and decided I wanted to study special education and so I started studyin for my masters degree and I almos’ got it, too—I wuz jest a semester away, when I was called to the ministry.
By this time, we had finished our food and were sitting contentedly around the table, hands clasped in front of us, relaxed against the back of our chairs as the weather outside turned tempestuous and wind blew the tree branches against our windows. He continued:
My wife and I, you see, had begun goin’ to church, we were goin’ with the seventh day Adventists, they are my wife’s people. And I would go for prayer meetin’s in the morning and we would wait for the Bishop to come and preach but sometimes the bishop didn’t come and so the people would say to me “preach!” But I didn’t know nuthin’ about preachin’ But every Sunday they would ask me and so, finally, I bought a book about how to prepare a sermon and I started to write one down, and the next Sunday I started preachin’ and they all said to me “you misst your callin’! You shoulda been a preachuh!” And then, the thing was—they were right—I felt it, I knew: the holy Spirit was guiding me—I was supposed to be a preacher. And I said, “Lord, I can’t do this, I don’t know anything about preaching!” but it was right, it was the Holy Spirit, I was meant to preach.
And so he did.
Bishop Walker went on to tell us the story of his preaching: he returned to school and got another BA, this one in divinity. Then he kept studying and got his Masters of divinity and stopped his work as a teacher to become a chaplain. He began attending a new Church as part of his ministerial education and he and his wife began to worship with a denomination I had not heard of, the Seventh Day Pentecostals (worship on Saturday but believe in the gifts of the Spirit). Over the course of these years, they also raised a family—two sons and a daughter—and eventually buried the two sons. They moved about a bit between Philadelphia and New Jersey and, by the end of two thousand and seven, Brother Walker found himself as the acting Bishop of their local congregation—preaching some and focusing his outreach on personal ministry to those in need.
And so, just a month or so ago, the new year dawned, even as the sun is beginning to set on their lives. Far from the worldly man he says he once was, “Bishop” Walker now radiates the calm that accompanies those who walk at peace with themselves and their God. He and his wife were quite comfortable where they were, until a morning just after the turn of the year:
I was prayin’ one mornin’, and I said, “God, tell me how to draw as close to you as humanly possible.” And then into my mind came the words:
“find the Mormons.”
And I thought “what!? The Mormons!? I get up every mornin’ at four-thirty to study the Bible, I’ve been studying the Bible for forty years, and I don’t know anything about the Mormons.”
Then, about a week later, I was at the laundromat with my wife and we saw the Mormon Elders come in. They did their laundry, and then, as they left, the Holy Spirit said to me: go talk to the Mormons.
And so I did.
And they started comin’ to my house and teachin’ us. And one day, after they left, I said,
“God, I need to know if this is true. If what the Elders tell me is true, let me open my Bible and let the first word I read, the first verses I read, let them be positive.”
And then I opened my Bible and the first verses I read, why, they were so positive there was two ways about it, they weren’t some of these verses that could be read one way or the other way, they were SO positive and I just knew—
And then, I had to figure out how to tell my wife.
I mean, I’m an old man, it’s kind of late to be changing. I didn’t know if I could do this, but I knew it was right. I knew the Lord was leading me. My wife, she didn’t accept it as quickly as I did, but she told me she’d follow me anywhere. And here we are. I know it’s true. I know it’s right. I know this is where God’s leadin me.
And so, Saturday last, the good Bishop attended his regular meetings, and announced to his congregation that he would be leaving, that God wanted him somewhere else. And he and his wife were baptized and then, this week, confirmed. He told us how, this morning, as he read in the Bible before coming to our meetings, he read the great intercessory prayer and then read the promise that the Lord would send his comforter, and then how, as he sat on the stand waiting for a very new member (who, incidentally, had to be instructed on the stand, as to the halting words he was to say) to confirm him:
As I waited for the layin on of hands, I was cryin, but it was all I could do to contain myself, to keep myself from ballin like a baby, I wanted to break down and just cry up there, but I couldn’t let myself do that, so I just cried, you know, quietly, and they laid their hands on my hand, and, wow—wow.