Witness

Shiloh Baptist Church is a 69,000-square-foot facility housing a 100-year-old congregation of African-American Baptists in Plainfield, New Jersey.

In short, exactly not the place you’d expect to find two pale Manhattan Jews on a Sunday morning.

Yet that’s where we were, as my wife and I attended the dedication ceremony of an old friend’s son yesterday. Impeccably dressed and smiling, we attracted curious, friendly gazes from ushers the instant we walked in, then sat down in the balcony to watch the service.

This was my first Baptist experience of any color, and frankly, it was pretty great. Shiloh’s pastor is expressive and upbeat, and the congregation participates vocally and cheerfully.

The whole service was a visual and aural treat. The pastor was loud and soft, happy and sad, unfailingly optimistic. The sterotypical “get a witness” and “amen” utterances were in full effect. People clapped, waved, assented, took notes during the power-of-positive-thinking sermon. A farewell ceremony to a retiring volunteer nearly moved the pastor to tears (“Can I get a tissue before I cry up here? … thank you God amen”). The choir, 40-strong and accompanied by a three piece band—organ, drums, sax—sang with smiles and moved in unison.

At the end of the regular service, the baby’s dedication was called, and our entire party marched down from the balcony to stand in front of the pulpit, in solidarity and ceremony with the family. I felt, well, white. But I also felt proud and warm to have been invited and participated in the ceremony. The pastor knows my friends and has an obvious love for children. He wore a huge, genuine smile throughout the dedication as he held the baby. The rest of us did, too.

After the service, we all went to lunch, where I met up with my gang, the first time in a long while that we’ve all been somewhere together. We toasted the baby, saw each other’s kids, congratulated one another on new jobs and promotions and pregnancies, and made plans to do it again, for the Super Bowl this coming weekend.

Congratulations, then, to Jerome Lonnie Jones III, and to his parents and grandparents, who have brought their first child into a wonderfully loving existence. I could hardly imagine a more uplifting day.