Reverend Simon Jackson has always felt destined to lead and he’s done a good job of it, transforming his small Houston church into one of the most respected and renowned in the region. But while the good Reverend’s been busy tending his flock, his family’s gone astray.
His nineteen-year-old daughter, Rachel, gives new meaning to “baby mama drama.” Crazy in love with her son’s father, she's wreaking havoc on the man’s life, even though he's about to marry another woman. David, Simon's oldest at twenty-seven, has been spiraling downward ever since a knee injury ended a promising football career. These days he’s seeking solace in drugs—even feeding his habit by stealing church offerings. Blessedly, twenty-three-year-old Jonathan, a college graduate and the apple of Simon’s eye, is poised to take his father’s side as associate pastor—or so everyone thinks. Loretta has been a devoted wife to Simon, but she’s beginning to realize that enabling him to give more to the church than to his children was her biggest mistake. As things begin to fall apart and secrets are revealed, will Loretta be able to help her husband reunite their tattered family before it’s too late?
Let the Church Say Amen is a powerful journey through one family’s trials—and a remarkable story of reconciliation and love. When things are down to the wire will Reverend Simon Jackson choose to fight for his family or the congregation?
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About the Author
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Let the Church Say Amen
By Reshonda Tate Billingsley
Pocket BooksCopyright © 2004 Reshonda Tate Billingsley
All right reserved.
The choir was cutting up.
Reverend Simon Jackson enthusiastically clapped as they sang "Stomp" by Kirk Franklin.
Loretta Jackson beamed as she watched her husband swing jubilantly to the music. She knew Simon wasn't too keen on these newfound gospel hip-hoppers, as he called them, but the choir had the church on its feet. Even he had to admit they sounded good.
The choir began winding down and Simon stood and approached the podium. He was radiating with pride as he looked out at his members. And as she did every Sunday just before his sermon, Loretta gave him a reassuring smile. It made her happy to see her husband doing what he loved best, being pastor of Zion Hill, one of the best churches in Houston, as he always proclaimed.
"Let the church say amen!" Simon yelled.
"Amen!" the congregation replied in unison.
"Let's give our outstanding choir another round of applause because they sure spread God's message today."
Simon led the applause as the choir members settled in their seats. Loretta was sitting in her usual front row seat. Good music always rejuvenated Simon, so she knew they were in for a rousing sermon.
Loretta opened her Bible as she glanced around. She sighed deeply becauseRachel hadn't yet made it to church and she knew Simon would take notice.
"Now, if you will, turn your Bibles to Proverbs twenty-eight, thirteen. I know everyone has their Bible, right?" Simon sang.
Several people chuckled.
"Of course we do, Pastor," an elderly woman named Ida Hicks shouted. Simon nodded at Sister Hicks, who was sitting in the front pew as well. Sister Hicks was decked out from head to toe in white, from her huge hat that looked like wings coming off the side of her head to her white stockings and scuffed-up white pumps.
Loretta tried to stifle a smile, because Simon often complained about Sister Hicks, saying she was like the student in class who always had the answer to everything. Loretta had to admit Sister Hicks drove everyone at the church crazy, but she was the original pastor's widow, so people still gave her respect.
"Well, wonderful. Has everyone found the verse?" Simon said as his gaze made its way to the back of the church. Loretta gently turned to see what he was looking at. She shook her head. Their nineteen-year-old daughter, Rachel, was trying to sneak in late -- again. That meant there would be a big argument right before Sunday dinner. Simon was just about fed up with Rachel. She'd stay out partying all Saturday night, and then couldn't drag herself out of bed to make it to church on Sunday morning. Simon always complained that if it weren't for Loretta keeping Rachel's two kids every weekend, his grandchildren probably wouldn't make it to church either.
Loretta tried not to let Rachel's entrance sour her mood, but she couldn't help but exhale in frustration. Not only was Rachel late, but she had the audacity to come into church with sunglasses on. Simon was going to blow a gasket. Not that it would do any good. Even though Rachel was raised in the church, getting her there before the benediction was almost impossible.
Loretta snapped back to the sermon, which Simon had begun as he tried to mask the scowl on his face. "All right, I want to talk about how what's done in the dark will come to light."
"I know that's right! You preach, Pastor!" Sister Hicks exclaimed.
Simon looked at Sister Hicks and forced a smile. Loretta knew exactly what her husband was thinking. He wanted Sister Hicks to shut up and let him preach. They went through this same routine every Sunday. Loretta had thought Simon would have been used to it by now, but he still complained about it after every service.
"As I was saying, many of us do things we think nobody else knows about. But God knows!" Simon bellowed.
Loretta hoped Rachel was listening, because Lord knew she had done more than her share of dirty deeds. Simon near 'bout had a heart attack when Rachel turned up pregnant at fifteen. Then she went out and had another child three years later. Simon would barely speak to her the entire time she was pregnant. Not only was he thoroughly embarrassed, but he was extremely disappointed in their daughter. But more than anything, Loretta knew Simon was hurt by his daughter's actions, feeling that he had failed her. Although that's something he'd never, ever admit.
Loretta tried to get thoughts of her family drama out of her mind and focus all her attention on her husband. He was getting worked up now; beads of sweat were trickling across his brow. She admired his strong physique. For 55 years old, he was stunningly handsome with a commanding presence, like he belonged in that pulpit, born to lead people down the path of righteousness.
Simon continued with his sermon, urging his congregation to lead meaningful and fulfilling Christian lives. For twenty-five minutes he continued to speak the word, putting emphasis where needed, shouting when the urge came over him and delivering a rousing sermon. Loretta could always tell how well he preached by the number of people who got the spirit during his sermon. Usually, it was only ten or fifteen people, not counting Sister Hicks, who always got the Holy Ghost every Sunday. (In private Simon had once said that he thought it was all an act, but Loretta had told him, who was he to judge.)
As the organist began playing, Simon extended his arms as if opening the doors of the church, and invited people to join him near the pulpit. He smiled down at Loretta again. She gave him the standard "you did good" nod, as she began swaying to the sounds of the music.
Loretta could feel the powerful love of her husband as he glanced around the room, his gaze always coming back to her. Simon always called her the saving grace in his family because she helped him keep it all together when it seemed like he just couldn't take any more. And in between the problems with their oldest son, David, and the drama surrounding Rachel, it seemed Loretta was having to do a lot more saving these days. But she didn't complain. She loved her husband and her kids and would do anything for them.
So far, no one had made their way to the front of the church.
"The doors of the church are still open. Don't be afraid. Come now. Let the Lord be your guide," Simon said.
Sometimes it took a while for anyone to come up, so Simon would usually keep his arms outstretched as the music continued to play.
Loretta stole another look at Rachel. I know she is not asleep! But that wasn't true. She quickly turned her attention back to Simon, hoping he wouldn't notice. Of course as luck would have it, he noticed it about the same time he was wrapping things up.
Simon took a deep breath, trying not to let his disgust show to the entire congregation, but Loretta could see it clear as day. Although she would never give up on any of her kids, Loretta knew Simon was about ready to write Rachel off, just as he'd done David. Loretta sighed. If only they could hold on two more weeks. That's when Jonathan, the one child who had made Simon proud, would return home. Simon was already so excited, it's all he'd talked about the last month. Simon was always a little more tolerant of Rachel and David whenever Jonathan was around. Loretta hated how Simon differentiated between the kids. But she knew his relationship with Rachel and David was something he'd have to work through in his own due time. But that didn't mean she'd stop trying to pull her family back together. Heck, she couldn't stop trying even if she wanted to. She believed with all her heart that she'd been blessed with a wonderful family, despite their shortcomings and she'd do whatever it took to hold them together.
Copyright © 2004 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Excerpted from Let the Church Say Amen by Reshonda Tate Billingsley Copyright © 2004 by Reshonda Tate Billingsley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Say Amen, Again includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author ReShonda Tate Billingsley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Rachel Adams is trying to find a way to forgive her husband, Pastor Lester Adams, for having an affair. Her task is made all the more difficult by the reappearance of his former mistress, Mary Richardson, in their family’s church. Now pregnant, Mary claims that Lester is the child’s father and is intent on seducing him away from Rachel. Meanwhile, a tragedy rocks the foundation of the Adams family and everyone involved is confronted with an ultimate decision of forgiveness.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What does Rachel’s dream in the novel’s opening chapter reveal about her fears? How is she able to overcome these fears by the end of the book?
2. Despite Lester’s continual refusal of her affections, Mary protests that the love she feels for him is real. Do you think this is true?
3. Rachel fears that her anger is interfering with her growth as a Christian. Do you agree with her decision to leave the church until Mary is removed? Likewise, do you think Mary should be removed from the church—or do you agree with Deacon Jacobs’s assessment that “if they kicked one transgressor out, they had to kick them all out” (p. 14)?
4. Mary’s visit from her mother, Margaret, is unwelcome and reinforces why Mary removed Margaret from her life in the first place. How does Mary feel when she sees her mother? How do you think Mary’s relationship with her mother has influenced her as a person?
5. Mary’s dealing ex-boyfriend, Craig, is another unwelcome visitor who brings “nothing but trouble” when he comes around. Is there anything Mary could have done to rid Craig from her life and leave her past behind? Or do you think her past was always destined to follow her?
6. Fed up with Aunt Minnie’s constant judgment of his family, Simon reveals a few of her deepest secrets to prove that she’s not as perfect as she pretends to be. As Simon says, do you think she “had that coming”?
7. Although Bobby never makes an appearance in this novel, Rachel can’t help but think about him from time to time. She wonders if chasing after him in the past influenced Lester’s affair with Mary. Do you feel that Rachel is right to take on part of the blame for Lester’s affair?
8. After Rachel’s interaction with Pastor Terrance Ellis at Lily Grove Church, she felt humiliated for having misunderstood the pastor’s intentions. Did you also think Pastor Ellis was coming on to Rachel? How did you react to her reasoning that having an affair of her own would help her recover from Lester’s affair? Have you ever felt a similar urge to seek some kind of revenge?
9. Did Roderick’s suicide take you by surprise? Teenage bullying due to sexual orientation is a prominent topic in the media today. How does Roderick’s story echo other tragedies you’ve read or heard about?
10. Rachel’s father offers words of advice after Lester is arrested: “Baby girl, God is in the blessing business. He’s not in the punishing business. . . . Just know that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear” (p. 197). Do you agree? Has there ever been a time in your life that you felt you were being tested beyond what you could bear?
11. What did you think of Rachel’s decision to keep Mary’s son, despite him being a constant reminder of Lester’s indiscretion? Would you have made the same decision? Similarly, how would Rachel’s decision have been different if it had turned out that Lester was, in fact, the boy’s father?
12. How did your opinion of Mary change as you read the book? By the end of the novel, did you find yourself sympathizing with her situation? Or did you think she got what she deserved?
13. How does the role of forgiveness impact both the characters and the events in the novel? Is Rachel truly able to forgive Lester for his indiscretion by the end of the book? Do you think Jonathan will ever be able to forgive himself for what happened to Roderick?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Let the Church Say Amen, the first in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s Say Amen series, is currently being produced as a feature film. If you were in charge of casting, who would you cast as Rachel? Lester? Mary?
2. Roderick’s suicide, like many other teenage suicides committed by those who do not feel accepted by their families and/or communities, came as a saddening shock to those who loved him. If you’d like to help troubled teens in your area, consider taking part in one of the following campaigns:
• The It Gets Better Project, a worldwide movement of hope for LGBT youth: www.itgetsbetter.org
• To Write Love on Her Arms, a movement dedicated to helping those who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide: www.twloha.com
• The Trevor Project, a campaign for a future where all youth have the same opportunities, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity: www.thetrevorproject.org
3. Say Amen, Again is the third book in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s series about Rachel and her family. If your book group hasn’t yet read the first two books in the series, consider Let the Church Say Amen or Everybody Say Amen for your next discussion.
4. You can learn more about ReShonda Tate Billingsley and her books on her official website (www.reshondatatebillingsley.com). You can also follow her on Twitter (twitter.com/ReShondaT).
A Conversation with ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Say Amen, Again is the third book in the Say Amen series. Which character do you think has grown the most since Let the Church Say Amen, the first in the series?
It would definitely have to be Rachel. I mean, did you ever imagine the Rachel we first met would be capable of adopting the child of her husband’s mistress?
Do you have any plans to write another book about Rachel and her family? What’s next for the Jacksons and the Adamses?
Rachel is one of those characters that won’t let me tuck her away. I never planned to write the first sequel, and she demanded that her story continue. Next up, she’ll meet up with Jasmine Larson Bush, the main character from author Victoria Christopher Murray’s Jasmine series. The two women are so much alike and so different and they’ll clash as both try to get their husbands elected to a prestigious position in a national organization. That book is called Saints and Sinners and comes out in 2012.
Before you began writing Say Amen, Again, did you know how it would end? Was Rachel always going to accept Mary’s baby into her life?
Oh, I never know how my books are going to end. That’s why it’s so hard for me to write an outline. My characters take over and they tell me the direction in which they want to go. So, I had no idea if the baby was going to even be Lester’s, let alone Rachel’s plan for the child.
Roderick’s suicide is undoubtedly one of the novel’s saddest moments. Why did you feel this was important to include?
I just wanted to show the tragic side of what can happen when our young people feel like they can’t talk to anyone. I don’t even know whether Roderick was gay, but the simple fact that he was conflicted was cause for concern. Yet, for various reasons, he had nowhere to turn.
When it comes to writing, what would you say is your greatest challenge?
Whew, I guess it would be I can’t write fast enough, and I write pretty fast! There are so many unchartered territories I’d like to venture into, but my plate is pretty full. Some people would think that time might be a challenge, but I believe that you find time for your passion and writing is my passion, so time has never been an issue for me.
In its starred review of Let the Church Say Amen, Library Journal raves about your ability to infuse your text with “just the right dose of humor to balance the novel’s serious events.” Do you find it difficult to strike this balance in your writing?
I don’t. At all. People are always telling me how funny I am and I just don’t see it. I guess it’s because I’m not trying to be. It’s just a part of me; so naturally it’s reflected in my writing.
When you write, do you craft your novels with a mostly Christian audience in mind? Or do you aim to reach a wider readership?
Well, I’m a Christian who writes fiction, but that’s about the scope of my target. I mean, of course I want Christians to enjoy my book, but I also want nonbelievers, people of other religions, anyone and everyone to be able to pick up my book and enjoy it. And more than anything, get a message out of the book. In fact, my greatest joy in writing comes from those who found themselves growing closer to God, stronger in their faith, because of something I wrote. But at the end of the day, my message is for the masses. I believe that’s what God has called me to do.
What most inspires you to write?
A pure, simple passion for telling stories.
If one of your readers wanted to write a novel of his or her own, what would be the first piece of advice you would offer?
Don’t just talk about writing, write. And every minute you spend talking about what you don’t have time to do could be spent doing it. So many people don’t get their book finished because they let that get in the way. Something will always get in the way. The road to success is paved with tempting parking spaces. Don’t take a detour in trying to reach your dream. And finally, set small, attainable goals. I started with three pages a day, five days a week. No matter what, I committed to that. Well, before I knew it, three turned to thirty and I was able to finish my book.
What would you say is the most important thing for your readers to take away from Say Amen, Again?
The power of forgiveness and moving past your anger. I also hope that the book helps people reflect on how judging someone is something that should be left up to God.