Cynthia Matlock returns to the church of her childhood.
The church of my childhood welcomed me with peace and fellowship.
You might hear a cow mooing between the amens at Brisby Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. To reach the chapel, which is surrounded by farmland near Jacksonville in eastern Texas, you have to turn onto a dirt road that ends in a cow pasture. A dust cloud will follow your car to a hurricane fence that encloses the parking lot. Corbin Brisby, a former slave, bought 160 acres of land in the area in 1874 and deeded an acre to the church, which was founded officially on Dec. 6, 1881. In the beginning, the congregation met beneath a brush arbor. Over the years, a building was constructed and rooms were added. Brisby Chapel is the church of my 1960s childhood. At first, I was a bit embarrassed to invite city friends from Jacksonville to our church. The building didn’t have electricity (it was too expensive to run power lines to the building) or indoor plumbing (we had a men’s outhouse on the left and a women’s outhouse on the right). In the summer, parishioners kept cool with hand-held paper fans. But then—same as now—once inside the church with friends and family, a person could find something tranquil about worshipping among the mighty oak trees that surround the chapel. For a few hours on Sunday, there was no city noise and no busy concerns. So, last year, as an adult with my own family, I proudly invited my loved ones to our church’s annual homecoming day in August. The church now has amenities such as indoor plumbing, air conditioners and a full modern kitchen with a fellowship hall. We enjoyed slowcooked barbecue, homemade butter pound cakes and other home-cooked specialties, along with hugs and laughter. It was the same sanctuary that I remembered from my childhood. Finally, I understood it was not the building that was important, but the peaceful setting, thankfulness to God, and fellowship. As we drove away, the car tires crunched over the white gravel. I glanced back at the grazing cows surrounding this country church and smiled.