Last Saturday I had my first book signing for The Promise of Palmettos at Queen Chapel African Methodist Episcopalian Church. Considering my novel is about preservation and planning, it is only fitting that this monumental event in my life be held in this historical place. Queen Chapel is very significant in the unique timeline of Hilton Head Island. For one thing, at 147 years old, it is the first African Methodist Episcopalian Church established in South Carolina. As any teacher of history will tell you, not all noteworthy events that occur are intentional. With that being said, Hilton Head was actually not the intended site for the church. Missionaries led by Bishop Payne were traveling to Charleston on the steamship Arago when a storm wrecked the vessel, forcing them to land on the barrier island. The Bishop and the missionaries held their worship service under the live oak, which became the site of Queen Chapel A.M.E., therefore establishing African Methodist Episcopalians first on Hilton Head Island rather than the intended city of Charleston. Another thing about Queen Chapel is that it serves as the cornerstone for the Mitchellville Community, the first settlement for free slaves on the island.
Queen Chapel is a part of my own history. It was my grandfather’s church. It was the church of my father and his siblings. And it my church. Here is where I attended Sunday school, recited my Easter Speech, and sometimes sang. I remember the angry chases among the majestic oaks on the grounds as prepubescent boys called girls names and ran away to avoid certain pummeling. There were the hunts for Easter Eggs, which included the tearful search for the allusive super egg. And of course I have my memories of my aunts marching and singing down the aisle as they made their way to the choir stand. Kirk Franklin’s, At the Altar accurately describes how our people of Queen Chapel took turns making their way to the altar at the front of the church praying for themselves and one another. Every time I hear that song, I see Queen Chapel in my mind’s eye and I can’t help but to sing along.
The church has not only changed in its appearance since growing up but in its people. As I sat in church this past Sunday, and leaned over to whisper to my son to sit up straight, I saw how our place in life has shifted. We, who had been the children sporting our high top fades, a-symmetrical haircut, colorful baggy clothing, singing about our Addidas, had been replaced by a new generation in a new millennium. I am a married woman with kids but I have to constantly remind myself that I am no longer that shy and awkward 9-year-old who had once been intimidated by such a awesome setting. I admit that I had spent most of the morning alternating between paying attention to service and trying to match the kids to their parents, traces of them apparent in their features and in their mannerisms. The person on the piano is not the same older lady from years before, but my cousin who had been the adorable baby my girl cousins and I used to pass among us. She now heads the music ministry at the church. I remember the soloists’ debut at Christmas dinner 20 ago when my aunt brought him home from the hospital. My aunts who had marched down the aisle, had been replaced by their grandchildren. A childhood friend sits in the pulpit with the pastor.
So to celebrate the publishing of my novel that talks about history, a strong family, and preserving a community at Queen Chapel, it all comes full circle. I would like to send a heartfelt thank you to all that attended. I appreciate the support that I received from everyone throughout this process