My husband is one of the leaders of a radical little church in Harlem, and this summer, they're doing Wednesday evening prayers on the pier. I was raised in the church, my mother a prayer warrior of no mean order, but really I hated sitting through those interminable 6 a.m services every Sunday morning. And my whole childhood, I couldn't quite believe our parents were making us go back for Sunday School at 4 p.m. It was always a highly unwelcome interruption of whatever fun I'd been having that day, usually a family gathering of some sort, which would now be cut short. The only good part of Sunday School was when Uncle Victor would pick us up afterward—my brother, my two cousins, and me—and he'd take us all for cane juice and ice cream at an outdoor parlor called CeeBees. We'd sit on wrought iron benches on the flagstone verandah, the ice cream dripping onto our church clothes, the sun setting overhead. I haven't thought of that in decades, but the memory just flashed right back shimmery and clear.
A bit to my surprise, I married a devout church man, though not a proselytizer. The church he chose for our family is all about deeds—feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, ministering to the poor, the sick, the addicted, the disabled, the lonely, the disenfranchised. The members of that little church are always in the street, marching for causes, putting their shoe leather on the line. But when my man heads to Sunday morning services, I am seldom with him. Maybe I had my fill of church pews (although not church hymns) as a child. But church outdoors, there has always been something about that that appeals to me, nothing between my prayers and the overarching sky. So last night after work I met my husband at the pier, along with a handful of congregation faithfuls, for a half hour of prayer and song. I felt lulled by the sound of the waves splashing against the pilings, and gentled by a fresh breeze coming off the river.
A man who had been sitting on the pier, taking in the setting sun, decided to join us, and afterward he took this picture. "Let me take it," he said, "since I'm your newest member." He said he lived just up the hill and would be back next week. That's two of us.