Story by Elise Sandlin | Contributing Writer
Beans Creek Primitive Baptist Church in Huntland was rocking. The energetic choir swayed as they sang. Sweat beaded the preacher’s face and the 50 or so church members were on their feet, clapping. Though the congregation was small, their sound was large. For good reason: it was indeed a special day to be in the house of the Lord.
Beans Creek is a brick building, surrounded by fields and quiet highways (at least on this Sunday morning). Huntland is a small town in northern Franklin County, about 70 miles south of Murfreesboro. The church’s bus declares their mission statement: “Love knows, love shows, and love grows.”
The members practice what they preach, but it’s the women in white who show the way. They are the Usher Board and the Church Mothers and from head to fingers to toes they were dressed in sparkling white. On a usual Sunday, only the church’s female ushers would don this attire, but today, because there’s a baptism, the Church Mothers were dressed in white, too.
Standing ready at the entrance doors were Brenda Reed and Bornetta Hightower, both longtime ushers at Beans Creek. The Mothers of the church sat in pews at the front.
Both Usher Boards and Church Mothers are appointed to their position and are common in predominantly Black churches. An usher’s main job is to welcome members as they enter the church and support the congregation throughout the service, by handing out bulletins, taking care of the offering and passing out hand fans to members working up a sweat.
The Mothers are a cadre of wise, older women who are seen as Godly mentors to younger members of the church. Both are positions of influence, and their existence takes cue from verses in the New Testament book of Titus.
Mother Eula Kinslow has been a member of Beans Creek Baptist Church since 1969, shortly after she and her husband married, and has served as a Mother since 1992.
“The ushers just help, overseeing, seeing if anybody needs help,” Kinslow said, explaining the ushers role. “They know how to serve.”
The Mothers, Kinslow added, are present to support the pastor and deacons and promote the church’s work.
The women take their work seriously.
Hightower, who has been ushering for over 25 years, enjoys aiding members of her church and family. “I like helping my aunt. When she got sick, I went and stayed with her. When a brother got sick with cancer, I stayed with him,” Hightower said. “We just like helping people.”
Many of the Beans Creek ushers are related to each other, but those not directly related by blood still consider themselves a family because they are all connected as members of the church.
Reed, also known as Bay-Bay, who has been serving as an usher for almost 30 years, loves the work. “We’re just doorkeepers for the Lord,” she cackled. “Doorkeepers for the Lord.” Bornetta agreed.
Beans Creek also has training for junior ushers, Reed said. They currently have four boys serving as junior ushers and hope to have more join in the future.
“Ushers just oversee the service and try to keep people calm, especially when the preacher gets up to preach and when he gets started, making sure nobody moves or something like that,” Mother Kinslow said.
On this special Sunday, the preaching was on fire. Members of the congregation (often the Church Mothers) affirmed the preacher’s words with “Amen” or “Hallelujah.” Within a few moments, the pastor shifted the tempo from slow and steady to 100 miles per hour in just a few minutes, bringing parishioners to their feet . The preacher continuously wiped sweat from his face with a handkerchief, and the air conditioning thermostat was turned down by degrees several times to cool folks off.
Following the sermon came the baptism.
Dressed head to toe in white, a young man was escorted by the male and female ushers into the sanctuary and down the aisle. The baptistry pool was behind the pulpit, hidden beneath a trap door. The baptismal candidate waded into the pool as members of the congregation surrounded the pool, singing and offering words of praise. One who was lost had now been found. His mother and fiancé cried tears of joy.
With a practiced move, the pastor pushed on the young man’s shoulder and his face momentarily disappeared under the water. When he emerged, up went shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”
Afterwards, the congregation formed a line to congratulate him.
At the front were the women in white, ready to greet a new member of the family.
Elise Sandlin is one of nine Middle Tennessee State University journalism students who spent two and a half weeks in Franklin County this past May writing stories for the Herald Chronicle. More of their work can be found at www.theroadtripclass.com.