Somebody say amen!

The Rev. Sheron Patterson brings the word to black singles

The clinics have also been a boon for Jubilee United Methodist's attendance, bringing in scores of people who normally wouldn't attend the church. People with no church family have come as well as those who "want to give God one more chance," Patterson says.

The recent "Is the black man worth loving?" clinic is a case in point. With Ashley as provocateur, the audience members and panelists talked, cajoled, and teased about the plight of the black man and the black woman.

What would you do, Ashley tossed out, if you found out that your husband was having an affair, with another man? Ashley pointed out that the National Black Gay and Lesbian Association was in town for a convention that week.

"This man is a deacon in the church," Ashley added. "Would you stay and pray for him? Try to convert him? I mean, we see this more and more happening in the black community. We thought it was only stuff that happened to white folks."

The audience wailed at the salaciousness of the premise. "No way I would stay!" said one woman.

Then Patterson spoke: "That scenario is not rare. A lot of women pretend that it isn't there. A lot of time men tell us what is really going on, but we pretend not to see it. You are better off by yourself than with a man who does not want you."

The topics changed. One woman talked about how she didn't limit herself to just dating black men. She hasn't written them off, she said, but has had such bad luck with them that she has dated outside the race.

"I'm looking for a man to put me on a pedestal," she said. "It doesn't matter what I am accused of, I have to make myself happy."

The audience tensed up. Necks of women began to work as many hissed or clucked in disapproval. The sentiment through much of this audience was that this is a line not crossed. Stay with your own kind. A woman stood up and read a poem about why she will always love the black man. "What could I talk to a white man about, the struggle? I think not." The poem was met by a standing ovation from the men in the audience.

At another juncture, the question was turned around. "Does the black woman know how to love the black man?" asked a man in the audience. It had been his experience, he said, that many black women don't, and they bring much of the trouble in their relationships upon themselves. His comment was met with catcalls from the women in the audience.

Still, the session ended in a prayer and an exhortation to attendees to remember and bless each other. Afterward, people said they were glad they had come.

"As a single woman, I have a hard time finding someone and I was looking for some answers," says Karen Caston, 32, who attends St. John Baptist in Grand Prairie. "I was encouraged because I saw so many black men here. I didn't want it to be a roomful of women. It reassured myself and my beliefs."

For husband and wife Charles and Sharon Brown of Arlington, the Love Clinic gave them a chance to find out more about each other than they ever knew. Twenty-one years of marriage can sometimes make you too complacent, says Sharon. The couple has been coming to the clinics since their inception.

"I find things that can relate to our lives," she says. "We go back home and talk about things."

For Charles, the clinics are his therapy. "I learned tonight that my wife likes to take walks in the park, and I'm taking her," he says. "I'll take her walking in the park, or anywhere."

The Love Clinic's success has rippled outside the church. After the first clinic, which dealt with infidelity, hosted by KKDA radio personality Willis Johnson, a man called Johnson's program the following Monday to tell Johnson the Love Clinic had changed the man's life. He had been cheating on his wife, and after the clinic, he confessed to her. They were working through it, he said.

"Now that's what I call success," Patterson says. "The big stuff is not going to happen in the sanctuary, it is going to happen outside, but you've got to start somewhere."

Patterson believes that churches will eventually come around to talking more about relationships. As it is, she fields many phone calls from people, who attend other churches, seeking help with their relationship problems because their pastors won't discuss them. The need is great, she says. Those pastors soon will have to open up.

In the meantime, the Love Clinic continues, the third Friday of each month, getting black men and women talking, laughing, and praying.

"We are going to keep doing it until the need dissipates," Patterson says. "Just as long as there are hungry people that want to be fed by it, we want to keep on feeding souls.

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