By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Curry was singing now, each phrase leaping out, his body weaving like a serpent. The deacons behind him kept rushing up to fan him off, in tribute to his prowess. A keyboard had started up and was trying to keep pace with his cadence.
In the balcony behind Panchanita, a man was shouting, "Well, well," every time Curry paused. "Preeeeech, son!" Down below she could see a half-dozen women catching the spirit, their bodies buffeted by the Word.
"I'm glad that Jesus is my doctor," Curry breathed into the microphone. "I'm glad I tell Him everything in my heart. If we give Him glory, drug addicts can be delivered, because He lives. He lives. He lives. He lives."
As Curry closed his sermon, Panchanita figured out what the tingle was. The keyboard settled to a low ping, and an afterglow, nearly sexual, filled the room. Curry's pillow talk was impeccable. His words came softly. "God came to see about man and the Word was made flesh. Christmas isn't about gifts, but The Gift: for God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son." He began the call to discipleship. "I can feel that someone out there wants to accept Christ as savior," Curry purred. "Come on. Come on. You come to the Lord and the angels go absolutely crazy. You're the guest of honor!"
And that's exactly what Panchanita felt like on her long march up the aisle.
A few blocks away, in a tiny church of chipped white brick, Rosa Leland sat on a red-padded pew, mesmerized by the Word as spoken through Richard Dunn. Unlike Curry's service A a grand affair with printed programs and a stand out front for videocassette sales A Dunn's sermon took on humbler tones. Gray-haired deacons and deaconesses filled benches on either side of the raised pulpit. Choir members were squeezed onto a stage above. A sign to the pastor's left admonished, "Please do not chew gum in church."
Leland, an English teacher and grandmother, came to New Mt. Moriah for a little of the spirit that was missing from her last church, a gaping, impersonal place. She liked to watch the old men of Mt. Moriah bow together at the front of church and sing creaky spirituals. Dunn himself looked too big for the building. When he stamped and roared A which was often A chips of plaster fell from the saggy roof.
Today he was reciting from the Book of Matthew, telling how Jesus stormed into the temple and tipped the tables of the money changers. "Some people say Jesus don't get mad. But Jesus do get mad. I don't know about you, but there been times I didn't walk in the light, when I didn't do what the Lord told me to do, and He turned over some tables in my life!"
Dunn squinched his green eyes and broke into a rasping tenor. "Jesus said: 'My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.' He didn't say Rev. Dunn's house. Didn't say the deacon's house. Didn't say the trustee's house. He said God's house. If Jesus came here today, would He be satisfied? Would He find us locked up in tradition so much that we can't see the Word? Would He find us trying to feed the weak, clothe the nekkid? Would He find in us a willingness to roll up our sleeves and go under the bridge? Would He find this a house of prayer?"
Now Dunn began chanting the words, drawing honking breaths from the microphone like a drowning man and waving his arms. The devotees in the front pews were rooting him on, cooling themselves with cardboard fans. "Everybody needs a little more prayer. He'll lead ya with prayer! He'll lead ya. He'll lead ya. I was weak and He led me. When they tried to scandalize my name, somebody prayed for me. When ya pray right, the dumb will talk. The deaf will hear. The blind will see. The crippled will walk."
And the plain tuckered out, Rosa Leland decided right then and there, might just walk a little taller.
Richard Dunn is wedged into a booth at Liberty City's Kingfish Restaurant on NW Seventh Avenue, describing the miracle of political espionage over twice-blessed cornbread. "God touched somebody's heart and I got this stuff," Dunn says, referring to a nasty letter that was sent to a group of union officials urging them not to support Dunn in last fall's school board race. "I wasn't supposed to get my hands on this, but He made sure I did." He says grace over his cornbread a third time, digs into his stewed beef, and lets loose a reverberating guffaw.
Dunn is in good spirits for a man recently dragged through the mud of what perhaps was the most rancorous electoral runoff in Dade school board history. But to him the tactics employed last year by his opponent, black school principal Frederica Wilson, only serve to reaffirm his own enduring stature. "The broader community thought I was dead because of all this nonsense in the past. Then they looked in the paper and saw I won the primary by 6000 votes. Those guys in the establishment said, 'Oh my God! We got to get this boy out!' So they jumped me, man. No two ways about it. They jumped me."