Jeffrey Joins a Church


When I checked on what time the Unity of Birmingham church services started on Sunday morning, I noticed that they also had an Adult Sunday School before the main “celebration service.” We always went to all the possible things there were to go to when I was growing up so I figured I’d just keep with that tradition and go to the early gathering too. I had some trouble finding the place so I walked in a few minutes after they had started. There were about twenty people with a book I didn’t recognize open on their laps. They all turned around and looked at me when I walked in. “Sorry I’m late.” I said. The minister of the church, Jerry Barthlow was teaching the class. I’ll never forget what he said. They were the first words anyone at Unity had ever spoken to me and now that I know what I know, I realize that there were deep and profound spiritual lessons in his simple statement, “You are right on time.”

I sat down and started to listen to the discussion about the book they were reading. The book was The Gospel According to Levi, which I mistook for one of the Gnostic Gospels. I remember finding what they were saying very interesting and feeling a little nervous that they were reading anything called “The Gospel According to” anybody if that book wasn’t one of the sixty-six I’d grown up with. It’s amazing how long after the brain leaves a particular ideology that the programming remains.

After the class was over there was a short break before the main service started. I was greeted warmly by all the gathering “Unitics” and I took a walk through the gardens by the church. When it got time for the worship service, I went back in and found a seat. The auditorium was nice and had sort of a space-age quality to it. The building was round and large drapes closed electronically on either side of the sanctuary when it came time for the meditation. The music was joyful and the people swayed and clapped their hands a lot. That was different by far from my Church of Christ upbringing but I decided to go with it. No one knew me here after all. Jerry’s wife, Jane, got up to give the announcements. She was a perky and bubbly blonde with an infections smile and disposition. Although she was sharing with the congregation information about the upcoming potluck and that a group that would be visiting the nursing home on Friday, she imparted all these details in a manner one might expect to hear about the month’s calendar from anyone on Sorority Row at The University of Alabama. It was from Jane that I learned that we would be having a guest minister that day which was sort of disappointing news since I had come to check out this congregation as a possible church home and felt like I wouldn’t be getting the authentic, normal-Sunday version of what that church was like. But when Jane gave the name of the guest speaker that day, the congregation erupted in applause so I figure from their reaction I was at least in for something interesting. The name was Edwene Gaines.

When Edwene took to the pulpit, it was like I was was watching a combination of a seasoned Broadway performer and a real-life angel descend in front of us. She looked, dressed and talked like one of the women from the big Southern family gospel groups I remembered from my youth. Edwene is from Mentone, Alabama, up in the foothills of the Appalachia so to be in Birmingham wasn’t that far from home for her but I soon learned that she traveled the world (with her then-husband, Bert) sharing the good news around the Spiritual Truths about Prosperity. Prosperity!The word drew me in like a homing beacon. For all the mess my life had become leading up to my getting sober, money and finance were always right at the top of the list as evidence of how unmanageable my precarious existence really was.  When Edwene parted those pretty painted lips and started sharing with us what she knew about God and Prosperity Principles, I drank it all in like a sponge. I could feel myself literally getting lighter in the chair. In a way, it was not like I was hearing what she said for the first time but more like I was remembering that it was all true although I’m pretty sure I had never heard these principles expressed (at least in this way) in my entire life. What she said gave me hope. Somehow, I knew the process she was describing about how to move into the prosperous life God wanted for me would really work for me too like it seemed to have worked for Edwene and others she talked about.

The “sermon” was over before I wanted it to be but I learned that Edwene (and Bert) would be sticking around for an afternoon “play-shop” so that we could learn even more if we were interested. And boy, was I ever interested! After the service ended I called and cancelled whatever plans I had for that afternoon, grabbed a quick bite of lunch and hurried back to Unity of Birmingham, ready for my life around finances to be changed for the better and for good.

Tomorrow I’ll share with you what I learned that afternoon and some of my experience with the teachings since.

See y’all tomorrow!

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