Excerpt: Fantasia Barrino's "Life Is Not a Fairy Tale"

What finally became the church had been the carport before my grandmother had the vision. One day she met a man at the produce market and she was telling him about her vision for the church and the young man happened to be a contractor. He told my grandmother, "I think I can help you do that, Miss Addie." A couple of days later he came to the house, measured it out, and he created a room that would eventually host the Holy Ghost. Because it was the carport, the heating and plumbing were all exposed, and my grandmother couldn't afford to change the ceiling, so she just left it. She was blessed to be able to install heating and cooling eventually. But back then, the humid North Carolina summers were hotter than hell in that church. The exposed insulation on the ceiling meant the congregation had to duck down to sit in certain seats.

My grandmother had bought a wooden cross that she draped with purple velvet, which she had seen in the initial vision of the church. The cross was placed in front of the furnace. As my grandmother says, "We're havin' chu'ch in there!"

The phrase "havin' chu'ch" reminds me of when the Bible says that when two or three are gathered, God is in the midst. All of us believe that strongly. When we have our "chu'ch," we're just praising God with our love and our actions toward each other. And we are always prayin' about something and singing. Prayer is just our norm as a family.

Back then, when the eleven members started telling their friends about the Holy Spirit who made it to my grandma's house every Sunday, we had to move into a storefront because the home church wouldn't hold that many people. Less than a year after the storefront, we had grown to about 100 or 150 members. Then even more people started comin' and wantin' to be a part of Mercy Outreach, which is what my Grandma Addie named her church. The word on the streets of High Point was that Mercy Outreach was the church of the Barrino Family. Everyone wanted to be blessed by our voices. Finally, we were able to move the church again, this time into a real church building with a sign out front with my grandmother's name as pastor and my mother's name as the associate pastor. The church has cushioned pews instead of the white folding chairs and a pulpit that would make any preacher proud. The church grew to be about 250 members.

The church is my grandmother's heart. Because there was a lot of drama, as there sometimes is in the black church, we started losin' members after about a year. People started leaving because of all the talk of sinnin' that was goin' on. There was talk about my father and how he was dating some of the women in the church. Baptists don't like to be involved with a sinnin' church. They think just being near sin will mess up their chance of gettin' into Heaven. There was a lot of talk and gossip about the church and around the church, while Sunday services kept gettin' smaller and smaller. The contents of the tithing basket were also getting smaller. Suddenly the mortgage payments were getting further and further apart. My grandma was stressin' because she thought she would be failing God if she lost the church. She continued to pray and put Mercy Outreach back into God's hands, where it belonged.

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