Next to parents and surroundings, religious faith is perhaps the most formative influence on a person’s life.
Whether or not one believes in a higher power determines how that person answers life’s most fundamental questions, as well as his or her basic moral outlook.
Attending religious services helps set the pace and rhythm of a person’s life. For many Christians, church attendance on Sunday morning, as well as on Sunday evening and Wednesday night, provides spiritual counterpoints to the routine of the work week.
In short, going to church frames a person’s life.
Some downtown area Tupelo residents recently shared their experiences of faith and life with the Daily Journal.
‘It’s just what I do’
On a scorching hot morning, Walter Bailey was sitting on his porch watching the traffic on Green Street.
“I used to know everybody in these projects,” said Bailey, 76, who lives in Section 8 housing. “Some of them sold whiskey and were always running the roads and carrying on.”
The father of four wouldn’t point out the splinter in his brother’s eye without acknowledging the board in his own.
“I used to drink and smoke and run around, too,” said Bailey, who attends a Missionary Baptist church. “I quit all that a long time ago, and I thank God for it. I haven’t thought about all that in years.”
Bailey wiped the sweat from his face with a hand towel, and he watched two young girls load a baby and several bags of clothes into a car across the street.
“My daddy was a farmer, and he always went to church. He raised me up in the church,” said Bailey.
He pointed to an old Buick parked on the curb, the car he drives to church each Sunday.
Going to Sunday gathering, Bailey said, is kind of like going to work.
“I just go,” he said. “It’s just what I do. I believe in it, now, I do. I just get up and go.”
Dealing with obstacles
For James Shelly, faith is a very practical matter.
“Spirituality is good, but it won’t get you by out here in the streets,” said the father of three and member of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tupelo.
“The Bible teaches you to deal with obstacles and trials in your life. It teaches you how to handle yourself,” said Shelly.
In his home in the Park Hill neighborhood, the 70-year-old showed off pictures of his children and grandchildren.
“My kids got up and went to church,” he said. “There wasn’t any of this, ‘I don’t feel like it,’ or, ‘I don’t want to,’ – not in this house. They went, and they’re better off for it.”
Shelly’s son now ministers to the homeless in Texas.
Shelly’s mother’s people were Baptists and Pentecostals and on his father’s side they were United Methodists.
He doesn’t put a lot of stock in denominations, but he believes in tithing.
“People who think church is too much of a business are usually the ones who don’t want to pay any money,” he said.
“You can’t just come in there and put a dollar down and expect the church to stay open.”
Shelly is proud that the black church has been a focal point for the civil rights movement.
“I wasn’t born into slavery, but I had to go in a lot of back doors and wasn’t allowed to sit at a lot of counters,” said Shelly.
“In the black church we talk about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt,” he said. “I don’t think we’re all the way out of Egypt, yet.”
Called to offer stability
Down the street from Bailey, Faye Collier stepped outside to catch a little sunshine while the children she oversaw relaxed in the air-conditioning.
Collier runs the Title One Community Seed Academy, a federally-funded, non-profit daycare where destitute parents can drop their children while they look for work.
As with most people, Collier’s strong connection to church can’t be traced back to an Emmaus Road experience.
One day, years ago, she simply accepted an invitation and her life since has been a gradual conversion.
“It’s easy to conform to your surroundings, especially for African-Americans in the inner city,” said Collier, dabbing sweat from under her eyes in the midday heat.
Stability is what’s lacking in a lot of the black community, she believes, including stable homes and relationships.
After joining Temple of Compassion and Deliverance more than 20 years ago, Collier felt called to offer some stability to families who needed it.
She started keeping kids in her house. Then, last year, she finally achieved her goal of opening a non-profit.
Following the advice of her pastor, Bishop Clarence Parks, Collier said she has “kept the word hidden in my heart.”
Just because she didn’t always do what she was supposed to didn’t mean the word wasn’t inside her.
“I kept it in my spiritual refrigerator,” said Collier, laughing amid the stifling heat. “When I needed it, it was still good. It didn’t spoil.”
A divine purpose
David Segur’s struggles have taken place mostly within his own mind.
The 62-year-old suffered a severe mental breakdown 15 years ago when his mother passed away, but that was the culmination of decade of mental anguish that he tried to ignore
Sitting at his volunteer post at the Salvation Army’s lodge on Monday, Segur talked about being hospitalized numerous times for psychological problems before being released into the care of the non-profit a year ago.
He’s convinced God led him to Tupelo, and he looks back to a childhood religious experience as proof that his life, though painful, is on a divinely plotted course.
Since arriving in Mississippi from Southern California, Segur has tried several churches, but he’s often felt unwelcome.
“That might have been a reflection of what I was willing to put out,” he said.
Now he attends services at the Salvation Army’s chapel on Carnation Street, and he feels a sense of peace and acceptance he’s never known.
“I’m sorry it’s taken me 62 years to figure out what God wanted for me,” said Segur. “Without this, I know I’d be dead.”
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal