The Church remains an integral unifying institution aimed at instilling ethics and maintaining high standards of discipline, respect, and humility. In her book Church Folk, a publication of the Walk Worthy Press, Michele Andrea Bowen tells of a story of the life and times of youthful energetic individuals Theophilus Simmons and Essie Lee. During a revival seminar in Jackson, Mississippi, Theophilus comes across this unique joint selling delicious sandwiches coupled with good blues lyrics. (Agriesti)
Theophilus's physique becomes the rationale by his former lover Glodean Benson who still claims his heart, but the pastor has no attached affections, even though Glodean's family members are devotees where he is a church parishioner. This scenario shows trouble is in the offing.
Coincidentally, in the joint, he meets Essie, who happens to be a cook there. The service Essie offers to Theophilus propagates affection towards her. Although Essie plays a hard-to-get lady for men, and never dreams of being a pastor's wife, after several instances with the pastor, she falls in love culminating to marriage. The religious fiction book with a light touch reveals the lengths at which the members of the clergy go to prosper materially at the expense of spiritually hungry worshippers. Material desire and earthly pleasures seemed to compromise their religious objective, from music in the church to dancing in the aisles temptations were all over. However, being a pastor's wife meant commanding respect from the society requiring an individual to scale up her conduct before the congregation (Mardel). In the religious literature tome written in 2005, Essie is combated by human impediments geared towards rationalizing her status in society. On the other hand, Theophilus in his capacity as a reverend in the church ministry and his rising prominence derails their romantic adventures and pleasures. (Jana Siciliano)
The book depicts Theophilus metamorphosis over the years although; the existence of insatiable individuals and adulterous activities in the church has not faded yet. (Hayes)
In many occasions in the book, the author brings out adulterous scenarios involving parishioners engaging in extramarital affairs. In the wake of elections to fill the vacant bishop seats during the Triennial General Conference, Senior Bishop Percy Jennings views it as an ideal occasion to replace the existing ones with the more vibrant intellectual Christian faithful.
In this regard, Bishop Jennings fronts Pastors Simmons and his colleague Tate for the available posts. The plot aimed at eradicating fraudsters that had continued to mismanage tithes at the expense of spiritually hungry congregation. As fate would have it, word comes around about a serious occurrence in Mozambique District, prompting Bishop Jennings to send the youthful rector Denzelle Flowers under the keen supervision of Tate. Unknown to many, not only is Flowers a church cleric but also a Federal Bureau of Investigation licensed agent with a gun. Denzelle is mandated to unearth smuggling of a male enhancement powder by African Bishops to the United States of America.
Pastor Sonny Washington, Jennings versatile opponent in the race for the Bishop's seat is the one to use the powder to get votes in the conference cum elections. As time progresses, Rev.Theophilus acquires a new status in a new church with Rev. Tate but misappropriation of funds in the house of worship leading to their misunderstanding and fallout.
As the plot thickens Essie gains material wealth, and up she climbs the social ladder to own even a new purple Cadillac and also have an afro hairstyle.
"Essie evolves from a mousy parishioner into an independent and Godly woman. Now sporting an afro and driving her new purple Cadillac"
In her book, Michele Andrea Bowen fronts various themes in regard to the African American religion, of importance though in this review is the emphasis put on the respect for elders in the church. In tackling this we focus on the congregation of the church. Theophilus church pays minimal attention to the older generation of the congregation by playing loud music similar to the ones played in discotheques. In many African American worship centers, great respect was paid to the elderly by involving them in the management of church affairs, but as Andrea portrays church management has been left to the young warm-blooded individuals who instead ensuring spiritual nourishment of the faithful turn to enrich themselves in dubious activities.
Kirkus highlights the language as an affirmation on the levels of moral decadence in the church in the sixties. For instance, the use of sexual words disrespects the elders in the church. He says such vocabulary alienates the congregation since they belong to different age brackets thus necessitating the need for church division.
"Dick teasers, hell, damn bitch and balls" Kirkus
At the seminary where Theophilus was getting his theological studies posed as a haven for temptations, from money, liquor and of course women. However, Rev.James, Theophilus mentor advised him to abhor such actions occasioning quarrels between the two.
"Look here, Theophilus, You smart on most counts, but you lost your doggone mind on this one…Boy, if I was your daddy, I'd knock you clean out your pastor's chair." Rev. James told Theophilus (Bowen). The conversation between Rev. James and Theophilus about his new mission in the GospelUnitedChurch reveals the high levels of respect the young pastor has for the elderly reverend. Such conversations show respect between individuals of varying age groups. The author also shows shared respect epitomized by the elderly clergy bestowing confidence young clergy by giving them challenging roles in the church.
"Bishop Jennings and Rev. James arranged for Theophilus to serve as the guest preacher for a week-long revival held at St. Paul's GospelUnitedChurch in Jackson, Mississippi." (Brown)
In conclusion, Church Folk plot and summation was innovative bringing the readers closer to the subject described in the novel. In this, I focus on clerics who swindle church funds for their own selfish reasons and garner material benefits instead of preaching the gospel. Such co-relation of ideas used by spiritual nourishment centers illustrates the extent of decay that corruption has brought to the church questioning the legitimacy of other churches. It creates a fertile ground for church-goers to reassess their places of worship. The novel appeals with its quick look at the African American religious activities and conduct, more so because it was written at a time of civil rights movements. It gives an astounding description of the times.
Contrary to many religious books, Church Folk accentuates the increasing cases of moral decadence amongst spiritual leaders. However, the use of obscene language is detrimental since it leads to the alienation of readers who may not opt to read such text. For instance, the elderly and the morally upright members in the society would abhor such content.
For religious critics and religious fiction enthusiasts, Church Folk is must read.
In Bowen's own words "the church, just as in life is an institution with a conglomerate of people and Church Folk stays true to her words.