The Rev. Beverly Dale stood preaching to her expectant flock in a soothing voice that sounded a little like Mr. Rogers.
But the topic, Celebrating the Sacred Erotic: A God of Pleasure, was not exactly childrens television material.
Dales presentation was the first public Christian Association event since the CAs early-January relocation from its cavernous home on Locust Walk to a more compact space in Tabernacle Church at 37th and Sansom.
In the hustle of the move, the CA hadnt had a chance to publicize this event, first in a series of four on the sacred and the erotic. We only got on-line last Thursday, said Rev Bev, as Dale, the executive director of the CA, is sometimes known. I had no idea who would show up tonight. But we work with whoever God gives us.
Tonight God had given Rev Bev a half-dozen residents from New Jerusalem, a recovery house in North Philly with ties to Tabernacle.
Two Penn students also attended: John Campbell (ASC02), whos on the CA student advisory board, and Dave Dinan (M02), who came because he knows Dale from the Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Center advisory board.
Asked if hes a Christian, Dave grinned sheepishly. I dont know what I am.
Rev Bev spoke about the anti-woman, anti-pleasure, anti-erotic messages of the Christian church. We have to free ourselves from the asexual, unembodied image of God thats been imposed on us, she said. Cut it loose!
She recited poems and sang songs while accompanying herself on the piano. One of the songs she sang was Wind Beneath My Wings. She also asked a set of rhetorical questions about sensuality. Have you ever felt rhythmic breathing of a loved one next to you and felt at peace? she asked. A few members of the usually-quiet audience said, Mmmm-hmmm. God created us as sensual beings and it was good, Rev Bev said.
Later, Rev Bev loosed the full force of her central-Illinois drawl and donned a lace shawl and pillbox hat to become Grandma Emma, an 85-year-old woman with stories to tell about her husband Elmers sexual education. Reminiscing about her disappointing wedding night, Emma said, I couldnt understand how the preacher could get up there every week talkin about adultery and fornicatin, and you couldnt give me a plugged nickel to do it a second time.
It turned out to be a night of debuts. Besides being the first event in the new space, it was also Dales first appearance as Emma, and her first time singing for people since 1986.
My life fell apart in 1986, she said. And its only recently that Ive started getting back the will to sing.
Originally published on February 15, 2001