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!
I’m not sure which is more impressive, the scene at First Mount Zion Baptist yesterday or the joy and enthusiasm with which you describe it. It sounds amazing. I think back on the days when my mother and I were first dealing with her diagnosis (not ever called Alzheimer’s but some variation of dementia that seemed to have no name), and the panic I felt at not having anyone who could tell me what was happening or where to turn or how the future might play out. What an incredible thing African-Americans Against Alzheimers must be to people who are in the throes of confusion and the depths of despair about their loved ones’ condition and their own helplessness. And the fact that it has the undergirding of congregations like First Mount Zion is wonderful. I’m so glad you were there, and I’m so glad they had you there. A perfect pairing it seems to me.
May AAAA and you and First Mount Zion and everyone associated with such a necessary ministry be blessed and supported as you all go about your loving and healing work.
I also just have to say, my dear Loretta, you look absolutely stunning in purple, one of my very favorite colors. It makes your face even more radiant than it just naturally is.
Much love and gratitude to you for bringing your great heart and great spirit to bear on the hard places in this world, but most of all for just being Loretta,
Thank you thank you Karen!! I’m so glad that the joy of the day was captured by my words! It was a perfect pairing!! The personnel of each ministry had on their respective shirts and pants and had such pride in their work! That visit spurred me to want to work harder in my church.
I never had any purple until Alz entered our lives!! And turns out it is also the color for pancreatic cancer, the cause of Tim’s death so I’m glad I wear the color so well!!
As Paul always says, I’ll keep carrying on with this mission!!!!
Much love back to you!!!!
What a wondrous experience in every way!
My big take-away from this post, Loretta, is the sacred relationship between serving others and receiving continued strength for the journey, between being present to give and, in your being present, receiving more than you could have imagined so to carry on!
And, yes, my blessed sister, carry on!
It was absolutely wonderful!!!!! You never know how someone you meet can impact your life in such a significant way right away!!! Almost like when we met in 2006!!
Ah, well, do I remember our first meeting; the beginning of a fine and fond relationship. We know each other well, at the heights of our best and at the not-so-heights of our best, with an abiding love and deep respect. I’m honored to know you, to be your friend and brother. Love you
Heights and not so heights!!! Gotta love that!!!!!! Amen for abiding love and deep respect!! Love you back!!!!!!