A few vehicles dot the parking lot of New Hope Methodist Church in suburban Atlanta, but there’s no sound except the rumble of idling motors. Slow rain becomes a torrent, blowing in wide sheets, obscuring the pastor standing on the church steps as he delivers his sermon. Drivers flick their windshield wipers to life and stare straight ahead. They won’t leave their steel cocoons any time soon. They won’t need to: The sermon booms from their radios like Carrie Underwood.
Liberty Grove, established in 1835, is the type of church typically associated with Sacred Harp. The church interior is unadorned. Bare pine walls. Plain metal fans and naked bulbs dotting the pine ceiling. Worshippers scattered among straight pine pews in uneven clusters, their hands rising and falling in 4/4 rhythm, down on the first beat, up on the third. Feet keep time as well.
Motorcycles clog the sidewalk outside, engines idling. Children play tag while burly, tattooed men sit on the front porch, trading stories. If you poke your head inside and peer into the dark recesses, you may still be confused. Chinese lanterns strung from the ceiling cast a soft glow on card tables below. Mothers dole Cheerios to chubby-fisted toddlers. Adults buy soft drinks from “Moose,” a man with Samson biceps. But looks can be deceiving, and stereotypes don’t fly too well at the Hope Fellowship Church, anyway.
Seated in a plush chair in the couple’s expansive library, a glass of sweet tea in her hand, she commands respect. Ultimately, this is the message she teaches her students, respect for their husbands and for scripture, which she says trumps everything. Drawing inspiration from Titus 2:5, which exhorts women to love their husbands, love their children, and be “discreet, chaste homemakers,” Mrs. Patterson broaches no apology for the course. “These women are going to be pastors’ wives,” she explains. “They need to know this.”
The music is pounding, buffeting the thrashing bodies from every direction as lasers swirl overhead, first red, then green, then melting into a disorienting synesthesia. This is the hottest ticket in Birmingham right now – Tuesday nights at “The Basement.” It draws nearly 5,000 teenagers a week to dance, sing, and pray. That’s right. Pray.
Contrails of sweat arc through the air as a football player slams his opponent into the wall, the momentum carrying him over the four-foot barrier and nearly into the nacho-laden laps of a family of four. Fans leap to their feet and pump their fists to a chorus of “Who let the dogs out? Woof! Woof!” With a triumphant grin, the airborne player vaults over the wall and plants his feet firmly back on the green Astroturf as a parade of silver-clad women shimmies into the end zone. Football is the main event on this Friday night, though religion is a definite subtext – with a Bible giveaway, a Christian concert, and, controversially, football players wearing jerseys with biblical references.