Fieldnotes – The Congregation

The Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Great Falls is one of the friendliest churches I’ve had the pleasure of wandering into.

The membership is small (I believe 18 people were in attendance the day I was there) but the congregation gave an impression of strength out of proportion to their numbers. That is partly because the pastor, Reverend Mercedes Tudy-Hamilton, has a ton of charisma, and partly because of Frank Ghee’s funky accompaniment on his Fender Stratocaster. But it is also, I believe, because the members of the congregation are very much in touch with their historical roots.

It struck me, as I spoke to people after the service, that all of them had an awareness of their place in the historical continuum that links the present church membership to its past in the 1800’s in Great Falls, and before that to the beginnings of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816 in Philadelphia.

By the way, Reverend Tudy-Hamilton made a point of telling me that although her church is African-American in origin, it is open to absolutely anyone who cares to worship there.

After the service, Frank Ghee and his wife Mary invited me back to their house for some home-made smoked ham and pecan ice cream. That’s where I had the chance to sit down with Frank and interview him at some length about his upbringing in rural Virginia, about the era of segregation he endured, and especially about his love affair with Montana.

I have the feeling Frank has many more hours of stories to tell, but this interview will give you a flavor.

Click to play the interview.

Or download this audio file to your computer.