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How we pray.

Soul Sanctuary: Images of the African American Worship Experience by Jason Miccolo Johnson Foreword by Gordon Parks Bulfinch Press, May 2006 $29.95, ISBN 0-821-25790-0

"To me, the sanctuary is the soul of the black church, and the soul is the sanctuary of our spiritual being. Church was and is a paradise of "visualosity"--visual curiosity for the mind's eye. And Sundays in my family meant going to church."--Jason Miccolo Johnson

Soul Sanctuary is a vivid pictorial of African American church culture featuring 170 black-and-white photographs--culled from 1,500 images--taken over a decade by award-winning photographer Jason Miccolo Johnson, who has been the official general conference photographer for African Methodist Episcopal Churches for the past 25 years. Accompanied by succinct essays about the black church--from the Introduction by Dr. Cain Hope Felder to the Epilogue by Rev. Dr. H. Beecher Hicks Jr.--the book includes Scripture, African American church history, passages from the Bible and anecdotes. There is one story that relates a congregation's spontaneous response to a grandmother's trauma and outburst of emotion.

Said to be the first photographic book of its kind, Soul Sanctuary begins early in the morning with "Preparation: This Is the Day Which the Lord Hath Made." The material is organized chronologically as a church program--a day in the life of a Sunday service. These images have such continuity, from one church to another. The book is very much like a family album; if you attend a black church, you know these people. Elder Sister Hardman--smiling cheerfully as she arrives early for service in Houston, Texas, in a white dress, her crucifix hanging below her Peter Pan collar, her Bible under her arm--reminds me of my grandmother in New York. You can hear Sister Marva Leach laughing infectiously as she prepares punch for the church anniversary repast in Detroit, Michigan. From Chicago to D.C., we have all seen the brothers' polished, two-toned, wing-tipped shoes and the preachers at the height of a sermon, stomping with their hands waving and sweat pouring down their faces.

The most powerful photographs, perhaps, are not the ones that illustrate church function, but those that speak much on their own about the presence of the Holy Spirit: images of intimate worship or meditation, classic portrayals of baptism, where the shutter opens and closes quietly without a flash, prayerfully not jarring the spirit, writing the anointing in light.

In the Foreword, the late Gordon Parks wrote, "Jason's photographs pushed me back into that sanctuary [of a black church], put Gabriel's horn in my hands, and urged me to shout, 'Hallelujah!'"

Miccolo Johnson has captured several of these moments, and we're blessed that he's shared them with us.

Visit for more titles that reflect black church life.

--Reviewed by Atsede Elegba Atsede Elegba is a photographer and the visual editor for BIBR.
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Title Annotation:Soul Sanctuary: Images of the African American Worship Experience
Author:Elegba, Atsede
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2006
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