At the end of last Sunday’s service, Deacon Clayton pulled me aside to tell me that I would always be welcome back and received with open arms at Holy Communion Gospel Church. I thanked him warmly and felt a little bit of the tension I’d been carrying in my shoulders all morning dissipate.
The deacon’s reassurance didn’t come as a surprise. But until then, I still hadn’t been able to shake the anxiety over how I—a stranger with a camera—would be perceived. My being introduced to the congregation as a newspaper photographer hadn’t done much to put me at ease either. It actually made my presence feel even more invasive than before. Also, this was the first time I’d been to church in years and the first time that I’d ever been to a black church service.
Deacon Clayton and I talked for a few minutes. He rambled a little bit about the history of the church and his own tenuous connections to the press. I didn’t understand or agree with everything he said. But he did say one thing that is going to stay with me and affect how I deal with future anxiety and self-consciousness while on assignment. He was talking about the idea of sharing the word of God without judgment and said: “If others aren’t afraid to share what they’re about, why should I be afraid to share what I’m about? Maybe they share a little bit of evil. Why don’t I share a little bit of good?”
It’s a simple but powerful idea: that you have something of value to offer and, as long as you do so bravely and sincerely, should feel neither ashamed nor afraid. Much easier talked about in the abstract than achieved in practice, of course. But I still find the sheer earnestness of the idea attractive. It’s precisely because it does border on oversimplification and presumptuousness that it seems like a worthy North Star for personal and journalistic composure.