One of my favorite lines in Zoolander is when Ben Stiller is addressing a group and says, “And when I say brother, I don’t mean, like, an actual brother, but I mean it like the way black people use it. Which is more meaningful, I think.” For me, growing up SDA (Seventh-Day Adventist), it was just like that. In church the proper way to address males of the faith was to say “Brother ____________,” and to speak to a female of the faith was “Sister ______________.” And it didn’t matter how old they were. If they were of adult age, they suddenly became Brother, and Sister. For SDAs, this means we’re all children of god, so that makes us brothers and sisters to each other, which is a fine thought, if we all remember that.
The church was a second family, in this way, and unlike a lot of institutions these days, it was truly the case. Because we spent so much time with the Brothers and Sisters of the church, they really did become like extended family. Once we were inside the church building, it was amazing how it worked. All the older ladies would muss my hair, kiss me on the cheek (or mouth — eew), and call me “little man.” All the older men would shake my hand (with the death grip, mind you), and call me “pastor” (read Growing Up Seventh-Day Adventist: Bring a Preacher’s Kid for reference). My mother was in charge of creating and copying the bulletin, as well as a Sabbath school teacher, so my sister and I were often left to our own devices before the church service began. However, there were always so many Brothers and Sisters around, so we were never truly by ourselves.
When someone would pass away who was a member of the church family, it was definitely a to-do. There were no hollow condolences in the SDA church. There were always people who had stories. That’s how you measured a person’s life, the stories others had to tell about them once they were gone. And oh how the stories would go on and on at funerals. I remember one where the pastor honestly had to stop the stories after two hours because there seemed to be no end to them. That’s when you know the person was integral to the church family. And the stories didn’t stop at the funeral either. Routinely at church get-togethers (there were many of them too) the stories would continue, and the warm atmosphere would also continue. That’s a family for you.
It didn’t matter how long you had been with the church either. You could have been baptized last week, or you could have been a deacon for 30 years, you were still a Brother, and still seen as vital to the church. And the same was true for Sisters. I remember the best part of being baptized for me was that I felt like I was really a member of that family. Then there was the other major ceremony, communion. I didn’t take communion until after I was baptized, and even then it was a solemn thing. I remember all the Brothers would gather for the foot washing, and I was so worried about smelling people’s feet, my first time, but Brother Smith took me aside. He broke down why the foot washing was done, the symbolism of it all, he gave me a grandfatherly hug, and that was that. I didn’t freak out when I had to touch another Brother’s feet, and I was grateful for that connection.
The Sisters were just as helpful, in their own way. The Sisters in the money office would always give me a piece of candy when I would pass by, fond memories I have to this day. And one time when I thought my mother had left without me, Sister Patterson sat with me while Sister Roberts went to find my mother (who hadn’t left after all). At my most emotional they were there for me. When I exhibited my worst behavior, they helped me see which way to go. And I am forever grateful to them, which is more meaningful, I think.