My walk to Calvary Spiritual Church in New Orleans

We were on a severe thunderstorm watch the day of the Treme Neighborhood Festival this past May, but the clouds contain the droplets for the celebration and I decided to take advantage of the overcast, but nice day. I couldn’t remember the last time I walked through Treme, more than likely it was prior to Katrina, so I decided to take myself on tour of the neighborhood.

I noticed so many changes, gentrification stood out like a sore thumb, condemned houses and overgrown lots broke my heart in each block I walked past. I just about halfway home, when I wished it would just rain, all I needed was a droplet and it would justify a 6 block Uber ride, but the drops never fell. I was left to walk along the ruins of my New Orleans, barely making out teen spots I frequented, most were tranformed into expensive AirBNB’s or overpriced homes that no aerage working New Orleanian would be able to afford to live in and I did not see a person ot along my walk as days of the past either. I was pleasantly surprised by several transplant bikers, who must have been hard of hearing and mute, becuase my “hello’s” just blew with the wind. This walk was breaking my heart. I was greeted block after block with the realization that the wealthy new comers would have their way with our city. New Orleans just may turn into the “New New Orleans” with only traces of our true culture. As my mind envisioned this pot of watery tasteless gumbo, I would become lost in the colors of what I would find to be a wooden fence full of life.

The sun seemed to break from the cloudy sky just to shine its light on the structure, I was about a 100 yards away from it as it took my full my attention, as if calling me to come closer. I felt my eyes narrow, filled with wonder as I approached the intricate artwork within the wooden fence. I met the fence and I say met because it literally was a wall, fence of life within its wooden carvings situated perfectly between its grooves. Amazed that this beautiful structure, extricate piece of artwork was next to a condemned, dilapidated and trashed old car shop.

I found myself writing down the address, intersection and etc to lodge a complaint to save it from wealthy developers who only see space and dollar signs. As I snapped and clicked, I found myself being greeted by a few roosters and chickens whose feathers had the same beautiful colors in them as the wooden fence. As you can guess, I tried my best to get a few pictures of the very quick and witty creatures, but I lost them between the fence and the building. I found myself almost to the back of the building, standing on top of what was part of what was the two by four fence that seemed to be the divider at some point was between the yard and the auto shop. My mind raced to my safety, telling myself ” You know you weren’t looking were you were walking as you chased the birds for a damn picture.” Thinking if the roosters knew to go under this abandoned building the rats did too, ran through my mind as I made a lackluster attempt to panic with thoughts of rats crawling over my boots, which I thanked myself for wearing. I couldn’t move, because I was able to see what the fence was protecting by way of fallen makeshift metal siding that had fallen. I didn’t notice at first, because I was chasing birds, but there was a shotgun house that fence belonged to and if being between the fence and that condemned building didn’t freak me out, imagine feeling like a lil black girl who jumped the fence to get a taste of the sweetest juiciest Misbelief’s on a hot summer New Orleans day, only to be greeted by the homeowner who would scare you to hell or some big german shepherd biting at your ankles, before I could get a taste of the fruit. All consequences fell to the wayside because what I saw had me stuck, intrigued and wowed.

As I stood there looking, wondering, a sense of mischievous pride overcame me. I was proud of whoever, this genius who had one on the powers of gentrification by way of hiding the last piece of their family’s church as I read the hand-painted words ” Calvary Spiritual Church” and the bright deep red door, on what looked like the face or piece of a church building. The feeling of seeing something so up close and personal with the past moved my soul. Then there was the whole layout of the yard, the wooden stick like carvings throughout the yard, the 6ft wooden fence, the pictures and engraving throughout it, something special was going on. Reality hit me, I was trespassing, a part of me felt like I invaded someone’s sacred space, someone took their precious time to create this and there I stood peeking through their fence. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself, I stood there in awe for a good two minutes, my trance was broken as my eyes zoomed to the curtain covered windows, was someone looking at me? Maybe, I should go knock on the door and explain how I got so far to the back side of the house came to mind, as I made my way over the mounds of trash that I didn’t remember walking over. I made my way to the front of the building, I took out my camera to capture the hidden beauty. Making my way to the street, well sidewalk, still clicking away. I put my eye to the lens I couldn’t believe how much detail was put into the fence and my heart was flooded with all types of emotions. Good, there was no one walking on my side of the Avenue at that moment, because I know some New Orleanian would have stopped to ask me why I was crying. Someone was gonna stop and offer me some tissue, some good New Orleans hospitality, and soulful advice. Unless it was a man who had an eye for me.. He would have shouted through the passenger window, “Babe your too pretty and fine to be crying over him and you walking, oh noo Babe which way you going, you need a ride? I can go get my Mama from around the corner and we can bring you home. You don’t need to be out here like this, Babe.” Yesss, that whole scenario played out in my head as I dried my tears with my t-shirt.

I couldn’t shake what I thought was the presence of eyes on me, so I decided that I needed to go address who I envisioned to be an older white man who moved to New Orleans like 30 years ago. Why not an older white or black woman or anyone else, you maybe wondering?? Typically, an older woman, black or white native of New Orleans or tranplant, would have at least came to the metal security gate and said something southern, sweet and sassy, like, “What you doing onside my house, nerve enough for something to fall on ya, Babe. Ya, lil nosey huh, po chile.What you need signatures for the city to do something??” Yesss, she would have a million and one questions for me and she will be out the gate, sitting on the porch, telling me to pick up those bottles and trash I nearly broke my neck on. After I was done she would give me a glass of tea and the tea on the church and the fence, but this wasn’t the case.

I looked up at the house telling myself it could be some type of business, even a Hoodoo VooDoo shop, as I looked for a sign, but none was there. I had no choice, but to knock. There was no other house on side of it with the exception of the condemned car shop, which made me a little nervous, but just walking away after evading, what I believe to this day was holy ground wouldn’t sit well with my soul. I walked slowly up the few steps nervously, feeling like my 12-year-old self to tell the homeowner the wrong that I did on their property.. I attempted to strain my ear to hear life from behind the heavy wooden door, which was just a regular everyday wooden door, but I heard nothing, but felt a presence. That presence could have been the hundreds of eyes watching my snooping behind as they drove past lol.

No one came to give me the information, the background on this sacred find of mine’s. No one to acknowledge that something within me changed that day as I stepped in between the buildings placing my feet on a hidden treasure. I was totally overcome by the spirit. I felt as if I was taken back to a place of long ago where the little white church house gave life even when life was gone from this earth. The white paint used seemed to be the brightest and calmest tone of white I have ever seen, giving the limelight to the handpainted words welcoming you to God’s House.

I felt like that little black girl who would dream of entering the door of Calvary Spiritual church on a beautiful Sunday morning, her special day. Walking hand in hand with her Mama, who carefully selected her baptismal whites for this perfect day of the early 1930s in New Orleans was far from being a perfect place for black people, but knowing God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit seemed to give a sense of relief to those living in those days. In that moment staring at the little church structure, I could feel the cool water soaking up all my whites from head to toe. I felt enlightened and refreshed as I came up out of the water, coming up out of it knowing that I should feel a heaviness from my soaking wet attire, but all I could feel was happiness and joy and the presence of ancestors looking at me with huge smiles on their faces with soft shouts of glory came from their lips as they extended their hands to the heavens.

The honk of a car driving pass brought me back to my world. I gathered myself , walked off the steps to the sidewalk giving the entire space, the fence one final look over before I crossed the street to go home. Something made me look back and wouldn’t you know the roosters came back out once I was on the other side of the road.. I thought that was significant in itself, especially knowing that we have a rooster and his family living under the house next door. This one rooster is very particular about who he lets come close to the lady downstairs door.. It’s like he is some sort of guard rooster lol, but seriously he like lives by her door especially during the afternoon.

St.Roch Neighborhood Rooster

Something in me changed that day. I have since been on the search to find out more about the church, the people who live in the house, basically the history, the culture of it all; which is why it has taken me so long to share my pictures. I treasure the photos I took. I feel what I imagine the owner feels, the need to treasure, protect, educate and pass on to the next generations. I worry about the property, because there’s seriously, like no information on the church. I did some digging and I can’t stop, I won’t stop, until I find out about the history of Calvary Spiritual Church and its members.

Photo credit @TomTomKlub: church was demolished in 2010

I found great articles about the spirituality in and of New Orleans that has left me going to bed when the early worms are halfway through their day. I’m so intrigued by this topic, especially after finding out there were so many women who established, ran and owned churches in a time when women were not allowed to hold leadership positions in the church. The reasonings may be the 1920s women’s movement that coincided with the Spiritual churches forming. The Spiritualists Church would prove to serve as the vessel for women to hold these positions, not only run the church but own the buildings as well. Many prominent spiritualists were women, and like most spiritualist, supported causes such as abolition of slavery and woman suffrage

Most would agree that religion and spirituality are not one in the same, but Spiritualist believe as other denominations that they are their own religious group with their own teaches and practices.

As, I would learn the term “Spiritualist Church” is the umbrella to a host of traditional and not so traditional religious churches, especially “New Orleans Spiritual Churches” add the word “Black” and the bigger the umbrella gets and I’m unsure as to why maybe because of the Voodoo influences.

The Spiritualist Church developed in the 1840s and reached its peak growth in membership from the 1840s to the 1920s, especially in English speaking countries. By 1897, spiritualism was said to have more than eight million followers in the United States and Europe, mostly drawn from the middle and upper class. I’m not sure if this population of people started practicing in secret as it religion formed in New Orleans, but at this moment I’m surprised that we, New Orleans has its own version of it.

The New Orleans Spiritual Church is influenced by Pentecostalism, Catholicism, Spiritualism and Voodoo that have been historically based in the African American Community. The first Spiritual Church is said to be founded by Leafy Anderson, a black religious leader in the early 1920s, who was born in Wisconsin, where she founded the Eternal Life Christian Association. She relocated to New Orleans in 1920 and founded churches with Native Americans who worked as her spirit guide. Their theology was grounded on a very Black eminism, and particularly on the Gospel of Joh 4 and the Samaritan woman.

Most Spiritualist churches implement the theological Spiritualism, including the use of “Spirit Guides” in worship services which are led by “Mediums”, with a mixture of Protestant and Catholic. Generally, there is an opening prayer, the singing of hymns and services led by the “Medium.” Some researchers have written off the Black Spiritualist practice as mere Black Folklore, but it’s actually viewed as a Spiritual ritual and not some Hoodoo, Hocus Pocus. I’m pretty sure that black spiritual goers were not the only ones asking the Holy Spirit into their lives and the laying of hands is done in just about all denominations??

As you read, my search to find out more about the Calvary Spiritual Church has led me all the way to the beginning of the entire religion. There’s a great mass of research, articles, and pictures that will possibly have me looking to get an anthropologist degree lol.

Right, now my quest has gotten a bit interesting…Zora Neale Hurston came to New Orleans to do research on the Spiritualist Church and she went so deep that she could have been a Voodoo Priestess herself. I fell in love with Zora again after seeing just how much she was dedicated to her craft and the culture of New Orleans. She came here for a story, but became one with our people and their spiritual beliefs. She came here to embrace the culture, not change it, she left their beliefs intact, learning from them and I love her for that. I wish more would come to New Orleans and do as she did.

I’m not sure what kinda pot I have found, but I’m gonna stir and stir till I have tasted all of its contents. This is worse than a novel I must admit, it has me engaged to the point it feels like I am really on a treasure hunt. I feel there’s a deeper reason as to why a beautiful engraved tall fence is hiding its precious artifacts.

As I mentioned a part of me wants at least New Orleans to know, but the state of gentrification here tell me it’s safe as is and can at least be passed down in their family.

I leave you with the words o Lady Zora Neale Hurston as I continue on my quest to find out the story, is the pictures that I lay before your eyes. If by chance you have any information on the church, the story behind the carvings and etc, please enlighten me. Please don’t ask me where I took the pictures either, all ya gonna get is “around my house” lol.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960) was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist of African-American life. Throughout her career, she wrote extensively on the subject of hoodoo, a blend of folklore, spirituality, and conjuring native to the Deep South.


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