Prior to last Monday, I’d never heard of the First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries, VA or its Small Groups Ministry Director Stephanie Craddock. We met at the Faith United Against Alzheimer’s Coalition Round Table, part of the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s National Alzheimer’s Summit in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the Round Table was to mobilize faith communities around brain health and Alzheimer’s awareness. From the moment Stephanie and I met, we “connected”.
After the round table ended, Stephanie and I chatted briefly and she invited me to First Mount Zion yesterday to see the play Forget Me Not. I was excited because the play that’s been touring the country focuses on Alzheimer’s and its impact on the African-American family. By the end our next conversation I was added to the panel discussion that was to occur between the two acts of the play. I sent my bio and photo to Stephanie Craddock and to Stephanie Monroe, the Executive Director of AfricanAmericansAgainstAlzheimer’s, UsAgainstAlzhimer’s. I was told that more than 1,700 people had already registered to see the play.
When I arrived at First Mount Zion yesterday at 9am to help set up the African-AmericansAgainstAlzheimer’s table, I was just excited to see the play, and to participate in the panel. Then I met Deacon Michell Clark (the MC for the day and one of the Founding Members of African-Americans Against Alzheimer’s), who offered to give me a tour of the multi-level church. The tour can only be described as mind-blowing! The church has incredible facilities and more services and programs than I’d ever seen. I’ve been in churches that had a small gym and even a basketball court, but certainly not a gym called Fit By God with a room filled with extraordinary equipment, as well as a sauna, steam room AND a trainer who designs fitness programs for church members. The huge basketball court has a full scoreboard and a full track in the balcony over the court. There is also a Kid’s Kingdom, that has themed classrooms and areas designed with kids in mind. There is a full service cafeteria with a commercial kitchen that provides meals for the dozens of First Mount Zion group meetings. There is a child care center, a barber shop, a beauty salon, a bookstore, a clothing store that serves the community, a computer lab, a huge crying room with glass windows that overlooks the sanctuary for parents with fidgety kids. They have more meeting rooms (several with capabilities for streaming the services) than some actual conference centers I’ve been in. And these are just SOME of the highlights!!
During and after the tour I met church ushers, members of the parking ministry and leaders of many groups. I had great fellowship with the wonderful people who lead the church’s Alzheimer’s Support Group. By the time we finished setup for the resource table with information on Alzheimer’s I was totally spirit-filled and ready to meet the many people who would enter the church doors to receive information, to laugh and to cry. The sanctuary doors opened at 11, but many people were already gathering by 10:30. People rushed over to the table to talk to me and Stephanie Monroe and to take home all of the information we had to offer. Some had been dealing with Alzheimer’s for a long time, while others had just recently been impacted by the disease. We talked and shared information right up until the play started at noon. It’s been a long time since I’d hugged that many people! I spoke with one eleven year old boy who was brought to the event by his grandmother because he wanted to learn everything he could to help his grandfather whom he said was his best friend.
The play, which is offered to the community for free, was excellent and much more emotional than I thought it would be. It was certainly funny in parts, but deadly serious in others. During the panel discussion led by Stephanie Monroe, it was amazing to actually sit on the set of the play as we told our stories and answered questions. As I looked out over the audience I was stunned by the rapt attention everyone was paying to the panelists, as they seemed to hang on every word that was said during the short discussion! I was tremendously proud to be in a room where almost 2,000 mostly African-American souls were listening and talking about Alzheimer’s disease. During the intermission and after the play, people rushed out to purchase a DVD of the play which I helped to sell and copies of my books. I sold almost every book I had with me.
After the play ended and the last person had left, I helped to get all of the remaining Alzheimer’s informational material repacked into boxes ready to be shipped to the play’s next location. With each box I packed, I felt like I was playing a part and doing God’s work in continuing to spread awareness about this disease across this country. Many of you know that I’m a cradle Episcopalian, but I don’t believe our chosen denomination matters at all in this work. I believe its a matter of being like Jesus and reaching out to those who need and want information and supporting each other with unconditional love, patience and understanding. I’m more energized than ever about this work and I’m especially focused on learning more about providing dementia-friendly services to those suffering with this disease and their caregivers. The best thing by far that happened to me this week was meeting Stephanie Craddock and having the opportunity to spend the day at First Mount Zion Baptist Church. I’m thankful that last Monday I was in the Perfect Place at the Right Time!