The block that intersected the street where I grew up was called Church Street. On one end was St. Angela's, the Catholic church my friends attended. At the other end was Beulah Baptist, where I first heard the gospel. St. Angela's seemed to be a dark mystery with its statues of Jesus and Mary and its holy smell. Beulah, on the other hand, met in a plain-looking building, with pale walls and blond furniture. It did not smell holy. No statue of Jesus could be found in the place.

One Saturday I walked with my friends to their catechism class. When we arrived at the back door to the church, they told me that I could go no farther because I wasn't a member of the parish. I peered through the glass at the Christ mounted on a pedestal that was attached to the wall. His arms were spread in welcome, but not for me. Instead, he surveyed an empty hall below. His mother hung at the other end. She too had her arms spread, as if inviting an invisible audience to enter their embrace.

I spent several minutes gazing from one to the other, my heart pounding. Surely, at any moment they might climb down and wave me away from the door. I wished I could step into the hall and examine the two figures more closely, but my friends had made it clear: I could not cross the sacred threshold.

When the lesson ended, my friends appeared again in the deserted hallway. They opened the red door and fled the place. The faint scent of holiness escaped with them, clinging like the musty smell on an old woman's wedding dress. I gave the statues one last nervous glance, just to make sure that they had not sprung to life, and went off to play.

Vacation Bible School

Beulah Baptist was at the opposite end of Church Street. I visited there because of a parade that ...

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