Living Democracy

Invest Time in Getting to Know Others

Illyshia Parker with church member in Selma, ALNestled atop a throne of coffee-colored soil, the Queen of the Black Belt known as Selma awes tourists from all over the world. One can conduct research that predates the city’s inception and visit every museum and landmark in town just to form a self-proclaimed opinion that they know this place. I would argue that you don’t know Selma until you’ve first met and interacted with the people who till her fertile soil with their talents and keep her functioning.

While every one else was sleeping, working or relaxing the day away, I was among those preparing to go to church on a recent Saturday. I was on a mission to learn something new when I visited Temple Gate Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

First Elder Doug Harris delivered a sermon that morning about knowing who God is. Getting to know God follows the same method of getting to know other people, he said.  “To know someone, you have to spend a little time with them,” said Harris, followed by a round of ‘Amens.’

 When I first walked in the sanctuary of Temple Gate, I was welcomed by the tune of “O’ Come Let Us Adore Him”. Before I could get comfortable in my seat, Sister Ilean Ward came over and greeted me with a warm “Happy Sabbath!”

Shortly after, one of the ushers gave me an equally delightful greeting and a comforting hug to match. Toward the beginning of the service, all of the visitors were acknowledged and welcomed with a song and lots of handshakes and hugs from the congregation. I have always been cautious about visiting new churches, especially those outside of my denomination, but those moments vanquished any insecurities I had.

Temple Gate Seventh-Day Adventist ChurchIf I never spent a little time at Temple Gate, I may have never answered a question I have pondered since I was a girl: “Who are Seventh-Day Adventists?”

Keisha Purifoy, director of the music ministry at Temple Gate, helped me to understand that Seventh-Day Adventists’ faith centers on Exodus 20:8-11 which says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…” and John 3:16-17 which says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Although I am not Seventh-Day Adventist, I quickly made a connection to the people who welcomed me into their place of worship with open arms.  “In order to know someone you have to study their character,” said Harris.

Take a walk down Broad Street in Selma and there’s no escaping that you are in the Bible Belt. A church is perched on almost every corner, and a walk into the outlying communities follows the same trend. Church is not just a façade in Selma. It is a testament to who she is.

Temple Gate Seventh-Day Adventist ChurchEvery function I’ve been to starts and ends with a word of prayer. A majority of the people I share conversations with seldom fail to omit a reference to their belief. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic are among the many denominations that call Selma home. Although their foundational beliefs may differ, it is evident that they have assisted in shaping Selma’s character into a faith-based community.

Elder J. Vickers, Sister Acoff, Elder Justin Davis, Sister Stein and Brother Demonte Purifoy were among those who were intentional in showing a genuine Christ-like love and making sure I felt right at home.

Before coming to live in Selma, I only knew what textbooks, teachers, my own research, and childhood memories taught me throughout the years. I had no idea about the diverse, dignified, and driven people who made up this historic place.

Living Democracy forces you to be intentional about forming relationships. For an introvert that isn’t an easy task, but for this journey to be successful it is necessary.

By Illyshia Parker
Last Updated: July 01, 2015