Friday, June 15, 2007

Delta Religion : Between The Sundays

This is a photographic essay on the life and faith of a small town Pastor in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Sunday services were purposely avoided in an effort to show what happens during the week in the life of a pastor. After services come to a close, and Sunday bleeds into a working week, what happens to the influence of a pastor between the Sundays?

At the end of an unannounced house call, Reverend James Jackson offers a prayer with his longtime friends, Percy (seated) and Hattie Stokes of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Reverend Jackson, or "Rev.JJ" as he is referred to by the community, did not become interested in religion until he was in college. Both Percy and Hattie who are deeply involved in Clarksdale churches were influential in Rev. JJ's early years as a church member and pastor. To pastor is to shepherd, and in such fashion Rev.JJ now cares for many who in years past helped him in his own personal journey.

It is no coincidence that the janitorial closet is next to Rev. JJ's office, in the King Temple Baptist Church in Clarksdale, Mississippi. After heavy spring rains exploit cracks in the roof of the humble church, the range of responsibility for a small town pastor grows.

A common temptation of the neighborhood youth is throwing rocks and sticks ontop of the church. After a surprise visit from Rev. JJ, the boys were led up a ladder to the roof with a bucket to clean the roof. Using the opportunity to talk with each of them, Rev. JJ has a chat with the boys that ends much friendlier than it began. Due to such efforts, Rev. JJ is connected to the youth of the community who are often disinterested in the church.

Rev. JJ's connection to the youth of the community is largely due to his previous service in the church as a youth minister. During a break at youth choir practice, Rev. JJ shows pictures from recently discovered film taken ten years ago. Rev. JJ's legacy of interest and involvement with the youth is displayed as the youth of the church reminisce and laugh at themselves in the old photographs.

One of the Martin girls from next door should be in school, but is suspended for bringing a knife to school after a student made a hurtful comment regarding her mother who was killed two years ago in a car accident. "You don't respect your mother by bringing a knife to school, she doesn't want you to do that." says Rev. JJ as he counsels the young girl, speaking of her mother as still present and watchful of her daughters actions.

Rev. JJ carries on the tradition of open racial relations and integration which is part of the church's history. In the late sixties, King Temple Baptist Church split from Silent Grove Baptist Church wishing to be more involved and proactive in the Civil Rights movement as a congregation and named the new church after Dr. Martin Luther King. Unfortunately, Rev. JJ is the only African-American minister who meets with the Clarksdale Minister's Council whose current goal is to improve race relations in a city where religion remains deeply segregated.

It's Wednesday night and Rev. JJ has a long list of homes in every corner of town to pick up youth for Bible Study. Most of the children are the only members of their family that attend church and would have no other exposure to the congregation were it not for the 2 hours spent driving each Wednesday afternoon picking up both the youth and members of the church unable to transport themselves.

Esaias, Akhenaton, and Joseph Furdge, (above) listen to Rev. JJ with Jabriah Baset in the church van en route to Wednesday night Bible Study. Although none of them are members of the King Temple Baptist Church, Rev. JJ has made it important to reach out to all the youth of the community. Motivation stems from his own childhood which was completely void of church and the support of a religious congregation.

Kokeisha Stokes receives some assistance with her screen door from Rev. JJ at her home. Rev. JJ remarks, "Pastoring in itself is shepherding people and helping them when they go through their difficult time, counseling, talking to them on the phone and even going by."

"I call them my "Jackson 5", says Rev. JJ about his family. Directly after dinner, before homework, bed and other activities pull the family members in different directions, each person takes turns saying a prayer out loud.

At the end of a full day, Rev. James Jackson has a rare soliatary hour to unwind, soak his feet, and fall asleep while watching the news. Sunday is quickly approaching which to many is the day for religious devotion. His weekly schedule, packed with contact, teaching, and involvement in the community is proof that while church is a brick and mortar location, religion tends to follow one around.


Sarah said...

hey dorkus, this post don't work... nothing here. fix that shiz!

Sarah said...

ok, much better dude. looks really nice. how much more Mississippi are you going to post? it's like you have an infinite supply. you sure you were only there a week? and not like a year?

Justin Caldwell said...

These are great Mike. I absolutely love the last photo.

BTW, get a flickr account already. I want more.