We have so many incredible stops on our pilgrimage journey, but it is always a little like coming home when we visit Willie Thorton, his family and the congregation at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. When our big bus arrives they are always in the parking lot waiting to greet each and every one of us with a big hug. Anyone who has joined us on the pilgrimage experience knows the drill. We arrive to an outpouring of love and are then immediately filed into the church basement to begin our choir practice.
It never takes long to realize that no matter how terrible you think your voice is, singing louder is the expectation from Mr. Thornton as he raises his hand up to the ceiling, and then you find out that you may not have the best soloist voice but you sure have a pretty good choir voice. The moment of truth comes when everyone is shuffled out, pilgrimage members and church members together, onto the stage for our debut. The congregation waits eagerly to cheer us on and as the choir we give it all we’ve got. After our number everyone in the audience looks on with smiles and applause as we shuffle off stage and go to join everyone for an all you can eat soul food dinner that is guaranteed to make anyone forget about the nervousness they may have felt just an hour or two ago.
This is the same warmth and hospitality that we got to return to our First Baptist Church family when they boarded a plane to come visit us in Seattle for the very first time. Felicia, David and Mary took the lead as primary hosts while the group was in town making sure the Theo’s Chocolate Factory tours and the Pike Place Market visits happened. The rest of the pilgrimage community had other opportunities to spend time with our guests. The first was a day at the Golden Gardens beach.
The feeling of a family reunion was in the air as one by one our pilgrimage alumni arrived on the beach. The grill was on and conversations were buzzing all around. Nicholas was teaching many of us about the deliciousness of grilled watermelon while Nathan sat at a table singing with church members like no one was watching. It was a wonderful experience to return the hospitality to First Baptist Church reflecting on all that they’ve shared with us over the years. Conversations with the focused on that this was first visit, but “make no mistake, this is the first of many,” to quote Willie.
The next day’s events gave all of our pilgrimage alumni the chance to come together and created an environment that felt very familiar. With a table of potluck food lined up and chairs set out the group came together again to sing. After an evening of song, it was time for some step. Pilgrimage alum Joel took the stage to share some of his experience as a stepper in his fraternity. As with any dance routine, everyone could follow counts up until a certain point until it all just goes out the window and you just end up doing your own thing. But they key is that everyone clearly had fun doing it had fun doing it.
As the song portion of the event came to an end we all said our goodbyes to our First Baptist Church family for the time being. The event was yet another reminder of the beauty of our organically growing community. As we move forward building relationships and building bridges with our extended community in the south we are reminded that we get to recreate the loving community that we discovered on our own pilgrimage journeys, right here at home.