In celebration of Black History Month: One man’s story
Most of those who read my column work: Paid employment, volunteer work, tasks around the house and yardwork, if left undone, would create serious problems. Some of us juggle all three types of work.
I seem to always select good seats, and when I attended a breakfast on Feb. 2 at the Transformed Life Church in Piqua, Ohio, I was again lucky. The three-hour program was aimed at initiating a celebration of Black History Month and continuing a planning session to educate area audiences about the experience of Africans and their descendants who were brought to American shores 400 years ago.
I met four interesting community members at my table, but the one who first piqued my interest sat next to me and had filled his plate with a very modest amount of food from a buffet piled high with all manner of delicacies.
So that morning I became acquainted with the Rev. Willie McGhee, of Sidney, Ohio. My conversations with him since that time have delighted me, prompted me to recall my childhood at the Central Baptist Church in Cumberland, Kentucky, and reinforced for me the power of Proverbs 20:27: “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord,” the scripture by which McGhee now leads his life.
McGhee comes from a family of ministers, and his father, Esau, told his children, “Everybody’s gonna be up in the morning, ready for Sunday school and church.”
McGhee reports, “He only had to tell us once. When our parents told us to do something, we fell in line.”
While Esau’s wife, Annie, was in church with the children, Esau was gardening: greens, onions, beans, carrots, okra — “all sorts of gardening.” And on Sunday afternoon the family drove to Oxford, Ohio, to Esau’s father’s house to harvest apples, pears and grapes for canning and making preserves. “Mama was a canner.”
Mother Annie felt her job was to make certain her four children were in school and home promptly after school, “none of that lagging about,” to do their homework and rotate household chores: mopping, taking out trash, washing the dishes.
According to McGhee, the family had a round-table discussion when there were problems to be resolved: “We’d all sit down, and dad would give everybody time to talk. He liked to hear both sides and get it out. He treated all us children the same. These discussions occurred when he got home from work and then everything got settled.”
From that orderly household in Hamilton, Ohio, McGhee moved to Sidney, Ohio, where he got a job at Ross Aluminum and became a party person: “I loved to drink, to be around friends, to have fun. I was kinda wild. ” He married, started having children, and continued to work for Ross Aluminum from which he retired after 36 years.
But then something happened. He says, “One day when I was in my mid-30s, I was at my wife’s mother’s home and I began to pray, asked the Lord’s forgiveness. I decided I wanted to change my life. I started going to the Mount Zion House of Prayer where Claudie Johnson was the pastor. My wife Delois was already in church, and I gave my life to Christ. Now I don’t have no chip on my shoulder, no more hatefulness, more loving and kind with a spirit of love and peace.”
McGhee became a different person, a better person. “I started working in the church, teaching Sunday school and Junior Church. I became a better husband, a better father. At Ross Aluminum, the foreman asked, ‘Who is that new guy working here?’ My pastor responded, ‘That’s the same person you hired, but he’s changed his life.’”
In October 2013 McGhee became pastor of a small congregation, the Mount Zion Church of God, in Sidney, Ohio. He understands his role with his congregation: “We believe in one accord, praying, fasting, and getting out in the community to help others, particularly at the Fair Haven Rest Home.
“The congregation fasts on Tuesday and Thursday of each week. We come together to ask God for direction with a belief that the sanctification of the body, by purifying ourselves through fasting, will help prepare us for what God wants us to do: To help others on their journeys.”
Church members testify because of their belief that discipline and training are essential if they are to go out as saints, or children of God, to “build up the kingdom of God.” This translates into parishioners, according to McGhee, “telling about the goodness of what Christ has done for them and what he can do for others. It’s an individual journey but it requires all of us to work together.”
McGhee continues, “It’s a good thing when we begin to understand the word of love, the difference between loving and hating and that one day we must meet God and we must know who God is in our lives.”
Recently, McGhee opened his arms to his 20th grandchild, a boy named Audrick Amir. As he catalogs the members of his family who are already engaged in pastoral duties, Pastor McGhee speaks wistfully of a hope that this new grandson will also endorse God’s work.
Note: In an upcoming column, I will introduce my readers to Willie’s brother, Calvin, a Californian, an army veteran and a man of God whose pastoral duties have taken him to Costa Rica and to African countries where swift punishment awaits those who spread the message of Christianity.
Dr. Vivian Blevins is a Harlan County native. She has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teaches communication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College in Ohio. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.