On a Sunday in July 2012, I attended a church service in the front room of a small storefront in Durham, North Carolina. I was told that the church, led by the young Pastor Lonnie Dubois, had only started meeting the Sunday before. The humble space, which had been a bank, a pawnshop, and a clothing store, was now the home of Apostolic Deliverance Rebirth Outreach Ministries. I returned the following Sunday and asked if I could take photographs during the service. With the church’s permission, I began what would become a ten-month exploration of this sanctuary.
There is a legacy of depicting African American religious worship in storefront churches – or other nontraditional religious spaces such as tent revivals or river baptisms – in its more ecstatic manifestations. From W.E.B. Du Bois’s description of “the Frenzy” that overtakes congregants to Milton Rogovin’s photographs of churchgoers filled with delirious excitement, this particular aspect of worship is most often portrayed. When we think of the storefront church, the image of fevered praise is the one we carry with us. While attending Apostolic Deliverance, I found myself drawn to quite a different aspect of worship: to moments of devotional solitude and contemplative silence.
The storefront space itself amplifies this quiet undercurrent. Remnants of the building’s earlier inhabitants – a bank vault, utility closets, electrical wiring – are always in sight. There are no traditional architectural cues, like stained glass windows or vaulted ceilings, to kindle a religious experience. The bare interiors make more visible the gentle gestures of faith. Whatever spirit is in the room belongs solely to the worshippers.
Pastor Dubois once preached, “God wants us to stand still. If we are still, the openings will appear, and the devil will be taken out the back door.” The small storefront on the corner of Angier and Driver in Durham, might be just enough space for a congregation to find this liberating stillness.