I grew up in a strict Southern Baptist church in rural Patrick County, Va.
Everyone would sit rigidly in their pews at Fairystone Baptist for the Sunday morning worship services and listen to the preacher deliver his sermon in the blandest Baptist fashion. The only music we had was from a choir with piano and organ accompaniment by a deputy sheriff and his wife.
(I didn’t realize until many years later that it was perfectly OK to make a joyful noise unto the Lord and revel in the lively music I then saw presented in His house — including those vile instruments of the devil, the drums and electric bass guitar.)
The deacons, including my grandpa, would occupy strategic positions around the church parameters as if anticipating some dastardly attack by the Methodists just down the road. They stood there stoically, moving only to pass out the collection plates — again with military precision.
This scenario that played out for years at my little country church might be fine for some, but it’s not my idea of old-time religion. Except for the occasional Easter play or Christmas program, there was little or no color or pageantry at Fairystone Baptist, which I personally believe is what the church should be about to some extent.
But when you’re talking about color and pageantry, you just can’t beat those Catholics. In fact, at times I have been kind of envious of those who practice this faith. I remember that some of my cousins were part of a Catholic family, and for one thing they were blessed with lots of brothers and sisters to play with — while I had just two.
Another interesting trait concerns the colorful titles those in the Catholic hierarchy have, such as cardinal and bishop, and their wearing of fancy robes and regalia.
And they also lay claim to the pope.
I can think of no other religious denomination that has a figure who even begins to rival the pope in terms of stature and influence. I mean, here is a guy recognized as the worldwide leader of everyone of his faith, from the far reaches of Europe to South America and even South Georgia.
The pope enjoys a kind of rock-star status that is unique in the world and people mob him everywhere he goes.
We were reminded of that once again this week with the election of a new pope. The events surrounding it dominated the news for a couple of days and were a frequent topic of conversation, even among people here in Mount Airy who are mostly Methodists, Presbyterians, Mormons, Moravians and yes, Baptists.
Except for the election of the U.S. president every four years, nothing seems to provoke more excitement than the selection of a pope. Most anyone could tell you the name of the pope at any given time, but who knows the present leader of the Southern Baptist Convention?
And in true Catholic splendor, choosing a pope can’t just be done with a simple meeting of the board of deacons or some similar procedure that other religious groups might engage in to pick a new spiritual icon.
The Catholics conduct what they call the papal conclave, in which the College of Cardinals convenes in St. Peter’s Square to pick the pope. That sounds pretty awesome in itself.
And again, while the cardinals take votes just as other officials are elected, the Catholics manage to inject a sense of flamboyance into the occasion via a literal smoke-filled room.
People wait outside the building to catch any hint of how the deliberations are going, and are kept informed via smoke signals. While these might have meant danger in the Old West, smoke is welcome in the Catholic community, particularly among its dreadlock-wearing followers in the Jamaican sector.
Black smoke emitted from the cardinals’ gathering place means the balloting has not produced a decision, while the sight of white smoke means a new pope has been chosen and it’s time to rejoice.
Pope Francis seems to be a pretty neat guy, based on reports circulating in the wake of his election.
He is a sports fan who loves soccer, although I won’t hold that against him. His father was a soccer enthusiast who also played basketball. Pope Francis speaks three languages fluently, Spanish, Italian and German, and has only one lung due to having the other removed because of a respiratory illness in 1969. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a native of Argentina, is the first non-European pope since the eighth century.
Pope Francis also is known for his simple living, including using public transportation services, cooking his own meals and residing in a small apartment, which indicates he is a true man of the people. Before joining the clergy, he obtained a master’s degree and taught literature and philosophy in Argentine secondary schools.
And perhaps most importantly, he gets to wear flowing white robes and a cool hat, despite what that old joke about the pope’s headwear might infer.
All in all, the Catholics have their share of detractors as well as legions of supporters. But one thing is for sure (fellow Baptists, are you listening?): They certainly aren’t boring.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.