The Old Church’s Bones

Put together dem bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Now hear the word of the Lord.


Ezekiel, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ce...
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The words kept running through Lakesha’s mind as she walked down the street from the school bus stop toward home. They’d been singing the song in choir, and she had asked where it came from. The teacher had read to them from Ezekiel 37.

She looked at the church. It was old, but she could remember a year ago when it had been closed. At the last meeting the men of the church board sat at the front of the church and explained how they could no longer pay a pastor and no longer afford the maintenance. There was a sign out front that said the church was for sale, but nobody wanted property in this neighborhood.

As she looked at the church she suddenly heard those words again: “Oh you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”

It was so real that she looked around to see who might have spoken, but there was nobody there. Down the street she could see a drug deal taking place, but she knew none of those men had spoken.

She turned back toward the church and heard again: “Prophecy to the bones: ‘Oh you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!'”

She looked around again, but still there was nobody there. Just a dead building, whose time had passed, in a neighborhood that was dying, if it was not already dead.

She looked at the church again. “Oh you dry bones,” she whispered, “hear the word of the Lord.”

She could feel a sense of emptiness, of dissatisfaction, as though her words were quieter than her whisper; no, as though they had been sucked up into a void.

“Oh you dry bones,” she said a little bit louder. “Hear the word of the Lord!” Her voice almost reached a squeak by the end, but it seemed that they were swallowed up in a void.

She remembered how often her mother had accused her of talking too loud. “Oh you dry bones,” she shouted, “Hear the word of the Lord!”

She had the sense now that something was happening, that she might actually have been heard. In fact she had been. The drug dealer yelled at her.

“You crazy? Shut up!”

“Oh you dry bones,” she shouted again, “hear the word of the Lord!”

He turned and walked away, apparently not wanted to be involved with such a crazy girl. She walked up to the church and pushed on the door. It swung open. The lock had long since been broken. There were beer and whiskey bottles lying around. The place was a mess.

Lakesha had never been that religious of a girl, but suddenly the scene offended her. She had been able to tolerate the neighborhood because she thought she’d escape someday, go off to college, and never come back. That was how it worked. The people who stayed just continued to deteriorate.

She grabbed a bottle and threw it out the window, a window that was already broken. Then another, and another. She made certain to throw them out the same window so they’d all be in a pile outside.

A few minutes later she heard someone else come into the church. It was one of the church ladies, one of the folks who had given up in discouragement. “What are you doing here, girl?” she asked.

“Oh you dry bones,” said Lakesha, “hear the word of the Lord!”

The lady looked around. “Can these bones live?” she asked herself quietly. Then she grabbed a bottle and tossed it out the window. A few minutes later, someone else arrived, carrying a broom. Then someone more came, carrying a garbage can. They were all the women of the community, mostly elderly, along with a few teenagers and children.

“Why haven’t we been meeting here?” asked one.

“You thought it couldn’t be done,” said Lakesha.

“The church board said it couldn’t be done.”

“The church board never read Ezekiel, I think,” said Lakesha. “Or maybe they didn’t believe it.”


It was a year later when a reporter came by the church. He’d heard strange stories about the little community. He showed up on a weekday during the day and found the church filled with people. There were no pews, but there was a kitchen, a pantry, a dining room, and back in what he thought might have been the pastor’s study he heard a sewing machine running. He asked for the pastor, and was directed to Lakesha.

“You’re the pastor?” he asked.

She laughed. “No, I’m just the loudmouth.”

“I thought you were reviving the church here. This looks like a kitchen, or some kind of service organization.”

“It is a service organization, it is a church, and it is revived,” said Lakesha.

“But I don’t see any place to have a church service.”

“Well, we don’t exactly have what you’d recognize as a church service. We just get together and pray and share and sing. We put the chairs out in a circle. Then we put them back around the table and we eat together.”

“But where do you get the money for all of this?”

“We just put what we have together and share it. You’d be amazed at what people can do in this community when they realize they can and just start trying.”

“What about the drug dealers? What about crime?”

“Some of our grandmothers walk down the streets at night and watch them. You’d be amazed at how fast they move.”

“So how did it all get started?”

“Oh you dry bones,” said Lakesha giggling, “hear the word of the Lord!”


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