The nuns would have been proud

Published 6:12 pm Monday, March 9, 2020

I have a very dear friend who will soon be returning to her home in The Philippines to live. I hate to see her go and will miss her very much. But in one unexpected coincidence after another, it was because of Beth that I got to see and pray inside the Catholic convent in Vicksburg.

You see, growing up black in Vicksburg, I never thought or expected to see the inside of St. Francis in Vicksburg. You all know why. Even less did I expect to see inside their convent, the closed, cloistered place where all nuns, regardless of color, live out their days in prayer and good works.

So, imagine my surprise when, in conversation, Beth invited me to come to her church. And I said that I would. And did. They had moved out of the old “Tree House” which had served temporarily as their house of prayer and were now in place, are you ready, in the former St. Francis Sisters’ Convent in Vicksburg.

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It was my first time ever.

I told all my friends and old classmates at St. Mary’s that they had to come see for themselves.

Three aisles and a section of two two-seated pews alternated with two sections of single-seat pews attached to the walls of the chapel, and in the front, the communion rail. But everything else was Baptist!

This was the blessed and temporary housing of The City Light Church of Vicksburg.

Now when I set about writing this, I intended to chide the city for lacking the savvy to see the possibilities in this for the incoming tourists. This was surely a place visitors would want to see.

But I also had the radio on and was listening at that very moment to a riveting discussion with a black congregant in New York about how ads among tourists in her neighborhood church were enticing more men (and women) in cargo shorts and with cameras to take pictures of “natives” in “natural” settings — rather than trying to find God. 

I didn’t want to do that.

So, I decided to forego this column.

Then, after Mass last Sunday, I went again to find again this was real.

There was no priestly vestment nor preacher’s robe. Both the pastor and congregants were casual.

There was no performance, but there was a well-developed and very theological, very compelling message — or homily — or sermon, your preference. And music with words on the screen, so there was no excuse for not singing.

There was genuine kindness in the welcoming the congregants gave me, from the very grown-up who offered me tea and walked with me half-way home to the very young, about 4 years old, who came unsolicited by his elders to shake my hand and smile.

There were black babies with their white fathers and mothers who were all active congregants here.

There was a congregation who paid the entire cost of my friend’s going home and helped with her garage sale on Saturday.

I hope they never leave this place. The nuns would be so proud.

Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.