60 years of worship, activism, service and really good food

60 years worship smallI think the sun shined a little brighter during a recent afternoon I spent in my hometown of Pacoima, California.

There weren’t ribbons in the sky to celebrate the special occasion – but there were diamonds in our thoughts as we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Calvary Baptist Church.

Rev Broadous

Late founder Dr. Hillery T. Broadous and wife Rosa Broadous

The little fledgling church that could started in 1955 after what its founder and then barber shop owner Hillery T. Broadous called “a wrestling match with God.” Well, he lost the match, closed his thriving business and opened a church whose message was as progressive as its mission – that all men and women were created equal in the sight of God and humankind.

It’s why we gathered to celebrate. For 60 years the church was not only about the business of saving souls, but also about the business of community service and social activism. From feeding the hungry, providing programs for the youth, to its annual Black History programs and close collaboration with the NAACP, Calvary Baptist Church of Pacoima was at the forefront of serving the community, advocating for civil rights, fair housing and counteracting hate crimes.

It’s what I remember most vividly as a wide eyed, impressionable young parishioner. And interwoven among the countless Sunday school lessons, 11:00 a.m. church services, Women’s Day programs and annual Revival services was a common message: faith by itself – if not accompanied by action – is dead (James 2:17 NIV).

I’ve always credited my sense of social activism and outspokenness against unfairness to the lessons I learned at this church. And over the years I’ve raised my voice as a columnist on a number of issues such as domestic violence, all forms of discrimination, economic inequity, and environmental injustice.

calvary choir

60th Anniversary Reunion Choir; my mom is center, with hands raised

It was an wonderful 60th anniversary celebration led by Apostle William T. Broadous,  son of the late founder. The church pews were filled with many familiar faces from my childhood. It’s just that they were a little more aged than I remembered. But then again, my face was a little more aged too. The message and the mentions celebrating our past were rousing and spirit filled. Seeing my mom sing in a church reunion choir was nostalgically magic.

plate of food

A few of my selections from the buffet

When church folk gather, you can bet there will be food and lots of it. In fact, feeding the soul and the stomach is a church tradition, not to mention a long held African American tradition. This particular Sunday was no different.

I’ve had some soul satisfying food on those church grounds. And seeing Mrs. Jean Dowell and Mrs. Willie Burns at the helm of banquet services was a comforting sense of continuity because they have been there as long as I can remember. Church member Linda Wiggians said it best while scooping out generous portions on the buffet line, “When we hens get in the kitchen, its always good.”

Good is an understatement. Image this. Cheesy macaroni and cheese, savory corn bread stuffing, Southern collard greens, smoky greens beans, roasted turkey and roast beef covered in gravy, and candied yams.

Ahh yes – those yams were amazing and unlike any yams I have ever had. They were sweet, buttery, earthy, and had a hint of something unexpected – lemon extract.

Those yams were the creation of Mrs. Burns and after a little coaxing I was able to get her to share her recipe. And now you can bring a little taste of that diamond celebration into your home.

Happy Diamond Anniversary Calvary Baptist Church. Thank you for 60 years of inspired worship, steadfast activism, community service and awesome food.

Mrs. Burns Candied Yams

candied yajs

Mrs. Burns Candied Yams kept warm in chaffing dish


2 pounds medium sized yams
2 cups sugar
2 sticks of butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg


Wash and peel yams. Cut into1 inch slices. Set aside. Place large non-stick Dutch oven on stove top and melt butter. Place half of the yams in the melted butter. Cover yams with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and lemon extract. Add remaining yams on top. Stir well. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and serve.

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