Florence G. Hagler, John Fountain’s grandmother, was among beloved black women he credits for nurturing him in “strong arms.” / Photo supplied by John Fountain

FOUNTAIN: Clapping and moaning and speaking in tongues

SHARE FOUNTAIN: Clapping and moaning and speaking in tongues
SHARE FOUNTAIN: Clapping and moaning and speaking in tongues

This is an excerpt from John Fountain’s forthcoming book: “No Place For Me: Letters to the Church in America.”

If prayer on those mornings with Grandmother and the Prayer Warriors was anything, it was transformative, it was a mighty burning fire, and it was spontaneous. The only agenda was to cry out to the Lord and to hear from Him.


We started at the same time each week at one West Side storefront church or another. Sometimes it was Sister Crane leading us. Sometimes Grandmother. Sometimes Missionary Hawkins. Mother Vaughns….

Everyone else followed, echoing the leader’s prayers or saying Amen, Hallelujah and Yes Lord — sometimes clapping and moaning and speaking in tongues.

Then as the prayer leader piped down, as if on cue, someone else piped up, soliciting God for healing or peace or deliverance. It also worked that way on Sundays at my grandfather’s True Vine Church.

Though there was an order of service, the saints were quick to switch gears, to completely abandon script, whenever the service ran thick with the Spirit. Usually a sudden explosion of saints, dancing in the aisles or speaking in tongues, signaled these times. Sometimes someone’s sudden deep wails filling the sanctuary sparked a chorus of cries unto God as we sought to open the windows of heaven and the pathway to healing.

We mostly prayed for God to “bless” us and our families and community.

Being blessed back then did not translate to any of us becoming rich, or having everything we wanted, or even to someday having a big house, fine cars and all the material trappings.

Being blessed meant having the favor of God, which amounted to having a healthy family, life’s essentials and, as my Grandmother would say, a “reasonable portion of your health and strength.”

Our prayers were not driven by some pie-in-the-sky, wait-until-the-hereafter philosophy meant to suppress poor folks, but by the realities that not even a truckload of money could ever solve all of our problems.

That did not mean one did not have aspirations, did not seek an education, or was never to desire a materially richer life. Except that was never the focus.

In the saints’ eyes back then, the type of car you drove or the kind of clothes you wore were not indicators of whether or not you were “blessed.” And if you were blessed with money, power and substance, we were taught that it was only so that you could bless others.

Despite my lack of all three as a young man with a young family in the ‘hood, grandmother and the Prayer Warriors insisted that I was indeed blessed.

They became my foundation to growth. They taught me how to “pray through…” That we pray to God in earnest, emptying our soul and mind before him in humility then wait patiently for Him to respond.

Not necessarily audibly but with the kind of peace or sudden impartation of wisdom, insight or knowledge that settles into your psyche and soul like a summer rain upon cracked dry earth. And you know that it must be divine.

You come to know that God is real and that prayer is not an exercise of futility but the channel to communicate with the Divine Creator who in sometimes small but significant ways speaks back to you.

During our morning sessions and in church back then, I witnessed the prayer of faith and saw the sick recover. I witnessed people’s life crises resolved time and time again.

I saw tiny and big miracles, even in my own life. I experienced the peace of God fill my own heart and mind, even amid times of chaos and uncertainty. And I could feel the fire burning.


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