We Visit Al Green’s Church in Memphis for Sunday Service
If you listened to the radio in the early 1970’s, then you heard Al Green’s smooth soul hits. Tired of Being Alone, Take Me to the River and Let’s Stay Together were all over the airwaves. But just a few years later, the hits stopped. Why? Because Al Green founded his own church in Memphis.
The Lord said, “Al, You’re Too Darn Sexy!”
In 1976 Al Green got “a wake-up call” from the Lord and became the Bishop Al Green. Some call him the Reverend Al Green, but, read the sign.
Shortly thereafter he founded his own Full Gospel Tabernacle church. Now the whole world knows it as Al Green’s church in Memphis. But that doesn’t mean he gave up singing! Far from it. I think he sings more now than he ever has.
We had long known about the church and had read visitors’ accounts of taking in a Sunday service. Every one of them was ecstatic about their visit. It was on our list.
On Sunday, We Made Sure We Were in Memphis
So, on a recent road trip through the southern States, we planned so that we would be in Memphis over a weekend.
To jump to the conclusion – this 3-hour Sunday service at Al Green’s church was one of the highlights of the whole trip. Although we are not normally church-going people, this morning had us ready to convert, but only if we could attend Bishop Green’s church.
Get Yourself to Church On Time
We had read that the service starts at 11 but that Bishop Green only shows up around noon, so it would be acceptable to show up a bit late. Not for us! We wanted to see and hear everything.
Arriving just before the doors opened, we were welcomed by a deacon. After a quick look around, we chose a seat near the back, assuming the front rows were reserved for the regular congregation.
This is quite a beautiful modern church. There were however a few details that took us aback, such as the painting on the wall behind us. White-robed bodies ascended from car crashes, buildings and a cemetery. Jesus floats in the sky above them.
Al Green’s Choir and Band Rock Hard
After settling in, the 12-person choir and 7-piece band took their places. A deacon took care of some housekeeping, children came up to sing and tell stories and at about noon, the Bishop himself came out, decked out in a long white robe with bold crimson red trim.
He immediately launched into song with the full choir and band. This wasn’t the smooth, sexy Al Green from his pop soul era, but a full-throated singer of praise. He became a conduit for the spirit flowing through him.
I live for these types of experiences, verging on out-of-body, loss-of-reason transformation of energy. It was spectacular. The band and choir were “ragged but right”. The call-and-response songs had the entire congregation singing.
Word to the Wise: Be Wary of the Devil
The sermon that day was a warning to be aware of the possibility of the devil around you. Could be your friends, co-workers or family. Personally, I’m not so concerned about the devil, but it could be interpreted as a message about not getting lead astray by others.
The audience was made up equally of his congregation and visitors / tourists like ourselves. Bishop Green asked where people were from, and on this day there were visitors from Australia, France, Spain, Canada, all over the U.S., and a tour bus of Japanese visitors (that was one hip tour). He also pointed out that there was a special visitor in the house, Miss Petula Clark.
Two Singing Stars in the Room
Part way through the service he came down the aisle towards the back. I said to Marlene, go to the end of our row, he’ll shake your hand. And that’s exactly what happened, a handshake and a blessing from the Bishop.
When the service was over, I had to go over to say hello to Petula Clark. Couldn’t resist. I still remember going to the arena for Saturday afternoon skating and the DJ playing Downtown and Don’t Sleep In the Subway. Anyway, Petula was in town for a fundraiser at the Peabody Hotel the previous Friday night and decided to stay the weekend to go to Bishop Green’s service.
Visiting Al Green’s Church? Get a Good Seat
A few thoughts if you decide to come to service. Dress up, it’s church. His congregation is turned out in their Sunday finest. The next time we’ll sit near the front. There was plenty of room up there. However, if you plan on leaving before the end (the entire service lasts about three hours), you may want to sit at the back.
They are accustomed to having tourists and Bishop Green extends a special welcome to visitors. He seems genuinely happy that people have come to be part of the service. Bring money to put in the envelope that you will receive. Maintaining this church comes with expenses.
Lastly, Al Green has kept up his recording career with many gospel recordings and a few secular albums. They’re all worth considering.
Imagine Al Green, Elvis Presley and Wilson Picket in Memphis
The church is less than two miles away from Graceland, and a few more miles from the recreated Stax studio. What a time it must have been in Memphis in the early 1970’s with Al Green, Elvis Presley and the crew at Stax including Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes cranking out hits.
We’ll be back in the American south, and again, we’ll make sure we have a Sunday in Memphis to be in the presence of the Bishop Al Green.
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