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Interview with Claude and Stella Mack

Mack, Claude
Mack, Stella
Crawford, Vickie
Date of Interview: 
Religion; African American church; Baptists; Youth and religion; Christianity; Witnessing; Marriage and family; Church activities; Leadership roles and church.
Nominated as their church's family of the year in 1996, Stella and Claude Mack discuss the central role that religion plays in their family's life. Attributing their faith and spiritual strength to their Christian upbringing and the examples set by kinfolk, the Macks outline their family's involvement in numerous activities within their church, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. These activities include weekly services, prayer meetings, and participation in workshops on Christianity and marriage. The Macks credit the importance of worshiping and working in Christian endeavors together as a family unit as vital for their spirituality and familial bond. They discuss the specific duties of their leadership roles as deacon and deaconess within their church. They also share their optimism for the future of the church within the larger African American community.
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at Friendship Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
Levine Museum of the New South, Amazing Grace Series
Interview Audio: 
VC (Vickie Crawford): It's August--. The what is it?
SM (Stella Mack): The 18th.
VC: 18th, and I'm here at Friendship Baptist Church. I'm interviewing the family of Claude and Stella Mack, M-A-C-K.
SM: Um-hum.
VC: You all were nominated family of the year by this church last year, so could you talk about what it is about you all as a family that earned you that honor.
SM: Honey, you can start.
CM (Claude Mack): Oh. I don't know if we've got a good explanation for that. We, we're involved in the church as a family. We all are members. All of our children have been baptized and are part of the membership as well as my wife and I. We've been involved at this church for about twelve years--.
SM: Well, since 1982.
CM: Um-hum. Maybe a little longer than that then maybe.
SM: [Laughter].
CM: Closer to fourteen years. And we, we, we take an active role in the church. We're involved in Sunday school. The children are involved in Sunday school. We also have a junior worship program for youth while the regular service is in session, and the children enjoy the separate junior worship experience. We come to Bible study mid-week on Wednesday night and prayer meeting on a regular basis. And, so most of what we do here at this church, we do as a family. When you see, when you see us, you normally see--.
SM: All of us.
CM: The majority of us. So that might have played a part in why the church may have nominated us for that honor.
SM: But it was nothing of a competitive nature. I mean, it was--. I was taken totally surprised by it all, and when they said family of the year to represent the Friendshipfamily as well as (Loch Carrie), you know, you just sort of like, Oh, play that down, you know. [Laughter] Because you don't want to get--. I don't know. I tend not to get the big head, so to speak, about things like that. And everybody else was just buzzing off of it, and, we were just like, "Well, you know, it's--. We were taken by surprise by it all. So, we're just busy about doing God's work, so--.
VC: Could you talk about the role of religion in your lives as a family. Talk about that. What you believe and how the church plays a role in your family life.
CM: For our family, church has been the predominant [Pause] influence for long time. In fact when Stella and I were children, we were raised in a very young Christian environment where going to church was a--.
SM: A must. [Laughter]
CM: A must. It was not optional. And when it's ingrained in you from your youth, it's something that becomes a part of your person, part of your personality. And so we've been going to church for a long time. And we've been exposed to Christianity and the teachings of Jesus as found in the Bible for a long time. And it just becomes a part of you, something that nurtures you, something that sustains you through the good times and through the bad times.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: It becomes something that you, you, you hold on to something. You look for it to keep you when the going gets tough.
SM: And then when we're, we're not involved in church, it's almost like there is something missing. We're lacking something. Our weeks, especially mine, does not seem to be the norm, you know. I can't ward off all the temptations and the, the, not necessarily the evil things, but things that would--. Whereas if I'd had that Sunday going, it would be instilled in me and it gets me through the week and it helps me to ward off anything that would tend to, you know, disrupt my day during the course of work or whatever. So it, it, it helps me a tremendous amount to be involved in the church and to hear the word from week--, you know, from Sunday to Sunday and then at mid-term at Bible study. That's another little pep or punch there to keep us up and going for the remainder of the week, so--. It's a--. I just can't see myself, you know, going week to week and not being involved church in some form or fashion because I like, you know, I like having that and that, the nourishment that you get from the word, you know, that gets you from day to day, you know. Because usually if Pastor Jones preaches about something on Sunday, nine times out of ten, something on Monday or Tuesday is going to come up that's going to--. My mind is going to revert back to that and I'll say, "Oh, I can put this into play, you know." And I can think this way and this will get me through this, you know, by knowing, just, you know, grasping from the words that I've heard and going forth. So. And then Wednesday is the mid-term that takes you through the rest of the week.
VC: Now you are a deacon in the church, is that right?
CM: Yes.
VC: Could you talk about what you, you do in your role as a deacon and the other kinds of things that you're involved in in the church?
CM: Yeah. The word deacon comes from a Greek word, diacon, which means to serve, service. So deacon is just one who serves God, particularly in their, their church. It's a calling; it's not something to be taken lightly. It's, it's, it's a biblical office in the church. And the first deacons were missionaries, that was their role to serve in a missionary capacity. So, it's, it's, it's a role that I revere, that I reverence, and that I enjoy. Has a lot of responsibility and a lot of accountability. But I enjoy it. It's, it's a part my calling, my spiritual calling from God. This church is large so we have a very large congregation to minister to. And each deacon is assigned twenty or more families in their, in their deacon family to minister to. And so it presents a lot of opportunity to serve. We try to do the best we can in that capacity.
VC: And when you minister to the people in your family,
CM: Um-hum.
VC: what kinds of things do you have to do? What are you called on to do?
CM: Things that come to mind are when there's bereavement in a family, we're there to kind of walk with them, to let them know that we're concerned about them, that we love them. And we're the church's representative in that instance. And, of course, there are other members-at-large who minister as well. But the deacon is a point person, somebody that they can contact immediately and let them know what's going on and what their needs are. And then we go back to the church and the pastor and other, other people within the church in ministering them during this particular sad time. Also in sickness, hospital visitation or it could be just a number of things, family problems where you just need somebody to unload on. You just need somebody to talk to or you need a prayer partner, somebody you want to pray with you over a particular issue. And that's part of our job. We also serve communion to sick and shut-in members, and on first Sunday, we serve communion to the church at large. There's a lot of things to do.
VC: Um-hum.
SM: A lot of responsibility. [Laughter]
VC: And what--? Can you talk about some of your roles, Stella? Your involvement?
SM: My role as a deaconess is because my husband is a deacon, then nine times out of ten, the wife becomes the, you know, plays an important part in his role. As a support person, we assist the deacons on first Sunday in serving communion and, and various responsibilities there. We also assist with the baptism. And those are designated Sundays that we have, you know, certain roles that we play. Also on the fourth Sunday, when we have new members, those people that have met the requirements and have been through the courses that are required of them, we extend the right hand of fellowship to them on the fourth Sunday where all the officers and various members will come down and greet those new members. So it's, it's a, it's a large responsibility but it's become a part of our lives and so it's just kind of like we just go with the flow because we know those are the things that God would have us to do or else we wouldn't be doing them,
VC: [Laughter]
SM: you know, I don't feel like. And just to, to, to do those things and know that, you know, these are the things that he would want us to do, it's very uplifting to me.
VC: What is the meaning of Christianity to you as a family?
CM: Hum. [Pause] Christianity for--, is literally following the teachings of Christ. And, one of the fundamental precepts of Christianity is love. To love thy neighbor as thy self and to love God with all of thy heart, with all of thy soul. And family has to be predicated on love. A genuine family has to be predicated on love for each other which is reflective of God's love for us. And God's love for his children is unconditional. It's, it's not because you're good or because you're bad, it's because you're his child or you are his children. And he extends love to us without any strings attached, and as family we have to learn to do that. As a father, as a mother, as siblings, we have to learn how to love one another. So for us Christianity is, is, is cultivating what it really means to love from a, from a Christian context or from a biblical context, from a spiritual context. And, if you do that and try and practice that and, and study God's word, then it helps your family, in a lot of ways.
SM: And the willingness to help others that are less fortunate or those that may be of an ill nature. My father stayed with us for two and a half years and that was quite a responsibility in addition to the responsibilities you have with the church and being involved in the church, and the kids being involved in different things. That was a learning process for them as well to have my father there. He was suffering from Alzheimer's. So we all played a very, very important part in trying to keep him while he was with us and to help him and to let him know that we're doing these things because we love you, you know. So, that was quite a challenge and everybody came through, and we're all, Mack especially, were Trojans at getting him, you know, keeping him calm and in line, [Laughter] so to speak.
VC: As a family, how do you all live out your Christian principles and teachings. How do you live this out as a family? You got any examples of ways in which you live out the word in your daily lives?
CM: You know, we, we like to help others, and we try to do that, and we do it often times as a family. As I indicated, when we worship together, always as a group, as a family. But also when we're helping in the community, we, we do a lot together, all of us: the mom and dad and the children. We have senior citizens that we visit on a regular basis that they enjoy our company, and we enjoy their company. And it's just to, just to visit, just to say hello, and just to share. The children enjoy this.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: Stella and I enjoy this, and the senior citizens that we come in contact with, they like this.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: We bring them to our home and share, just things of that nature. We do so many things
SM: Uh-huh.
CM: it's kind of hard--.
SM: Really.
CM: And start and to enumerate them. But that's one thing that as a family we enjoy doing, and that's visiting seniors.
SM: And then we also have kids that we, you know, tend to try and bring in. And, any--. I don't know, I guess when we run into anyone new in town, and we say, "Hey, what church you go to?" You know, or we'll prompt them and say, "Have you been to any new churches? Or have you visited with any churches in the area?" And we try and get them to come to Friendship. You know, come and try us. See how you like us, you know. And a couple of times, we've had some joiners so, you know, we were pleased with that. And they've been pleased with the church. And they've come in and gotten involved and loving it just as much as we do. So that's, I guess, another area we kind of branch out in to. Sometimes, unknowingly, we do it. It just up and, it's just up and out and the conversation comes up and before we know it, we're talking church and having a good time. [Laughter] So, it's, it's, it's good. It does the heart good.
VC: Well, you know, some people say that a lot these networks within the black communities are unraveling or coming apart like the visiting and things that we used to do.
SM: Um-hum.
VC: And things that we used to do even in terms of our commitment to the church. I mean, how do you see that? I mean what's the future of the black church as you see it?
CM: Oh, I think it's strong. I think, I think sometimes we get negative press because people tend to [Pause]talk about the negative, the unraveling, but they don't see the good things that are happening in a lot of churches, or in, in, in most churches. I think what we have to do as Christians is just to continue to be a witness where ever we are, what ever circle that we travel. And I think sometimes we tend to hold back when we should openly and readily seize every opportunity to share
SM: Um-hum.
CM: our faith, because I think by and large people want to hear good news, and we have some good news to share. And I think by and large people like to hear that and sometimes we are just a little shy in opening up and what we call witnessing. I didn't mention it earlier, but our church also as a Saturday evening service, what we call, Saturday Night Alive. And one of the things that we're trying to do in that service is to focus more on witnessing as a Christian, which is basically just sharing you faith, sharing what God has done for you, what he is doing for you and sharing why you are a Christian, why you love the Lord. And we're, we're opening up as a congregation in that, on that particular service to be more comfortable with sharing. And I think that's, that's part of what we have to do. We have to get comfortable as a church really being a good witnesses and that's, that's what we were called to do from the beginning by Jesus. His disciples were called to do that, and we're called to do the same thing. And as we do that, then I think that the church becomes even more viable than it already is in touching the lives and improving the quality of life for people. And I think that's what it's all about. I think the church, when it's reduced to its primary aim and that is to, to win people to Christ, it improves the quality of their life. You know, you can live and yet the quality of your life can be so, so low on a scale of one to ten, but you can live the same life in Christ and the quality of your life can be so high. So what we have to try and do is try and share how, how, how a relationship with God through Jesus in the church can improve the quality of one's life.
VC: What about family involvement in, in this particular church. Do other--? Are there other families like you?
CM: Oh--.
SM: Oh yes.
CM: Most definitely.
SM: Oh yes, there are. I--. There are numerous ones that husband, wife, children are all just as involved or more so than we may be. And, but I don't, you know. I couldn't put a number on that.
CM: We're, we're, we're fortunate here at Friendship. The Lord has blessed us beyond what we can even measure. We have a lot of dedicated Christians in our church family and many are families of husband, wife, children. We have a lot of people who volunteer and give of themselves in a lot of different ministries within the church. It can range from junior worship, what I mentioned earlier, vacation Bible school, tutorial programs, Sheep Folds. A Sheep Fold is a missionary group that, that takes on different projects. And some of the Sheep Folds will work with TAPS, another program similar to this.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: We also have a Brotherhood, which is another missionary group. We have Boy Scouts. We have Girl Scouts. So we have all kinds of people that are involved in the church. And the majority of them for the most part would be families, so we, we're, we're fortunate. We're blessed to have a lot of families that work in our church. So, yeah, we're just, wer're just a ripple in a pond so to speak
SM: Um-hum.
VC: in terms of one particular family. There are many, many other families that work in the church and do just a blessed job in helping others. That's what it's all about.
SM: And they also have youth groups that the kids will probably talk about a little more that cater to different age groups. There are three of them that the kids can be just as much involved in or more so. And then they have their choirs and little usher boys and the junior ushers that are really cute that--. So it's a lot of things in Friendship that has a drawing sensation for families because everybody can participate on different levels and still feel very much a part of the church, you know, just as much as the next person would be.
VC: Where do you get your source of strength from as a family?
SM: Ancestors. [Laughter] Truly from our ancestors. My parents were always drawing us and pushing us, "You need to go church, you need to go, you need to Sunday school. You learn more in Sunday school." And it's just something that's instilled in you that's just ongoing. And I guess that was the magnetism that kept pulling Mack and myself together when, when we were single. [Laughter] Because we had that common goal there of strength and background source. Mack's even more so than me because his family roots were kind of ongoing. Didn't you guys--? Because they had a lot of reunions and things. And you may want to expound on that.
CM: Yeah, we, we, we had a lot of family reunions when I was young and that was a big, big thing before it became so popular to have reunions. That, that made our family stronger, getting together. And also I think good family life always is predicated on one's relationship with God. I think when Stella alluded to the fact that our ancestors were the cause of our, our biggest influence of where we get our strength from, I think that's, again, that's predicated on how they put such a emphasis on, first of all, cultivating your relationship with God through Jesus his son. And, and I think when you, when you go back and look historically at the black church, you'll see that from as far back as you can look. Our, our strength, our--. The advantage that we have over other people, so to speak, would be our faith in God. And that's, that's what has kept us. So when, when we go back to that and we, we put our faith in God the way they did and the way they taught us to do. And we didn't understand it when we were children, I didn't. But they talked it, and they lived it. And they went to church, and they were missionaries. And they did all the things that they talked about in a church setting. They did those things. And when you do that, then even as a child, you begin to learn later on as you get older, oh yeah, this is why we do this. I understand. I see the connection now. I didn't see the connection then, but I see it now because I'm older, I'm wiser and I'm growing more in my faith.
SM: And in his strengthening.
CM: So that's what's strengthens the, our relationship.
SM: Very, strengthening. Yes.
CM: Our relationship, to God. But we learned that
SM: Um-hum.
CM: From our parents and fore parents,
SM: Um-hum.
CM: And our grandparents. That's where we learned that from; it just didn't happen that way.
SM: [Sound indicating negative response.]
CM: And that's why we have to keep our children involved in the church, in Sunday school, in Bible study, in this setting, because if there's any hope for our generation today and generations to come, it's predicated on their relationship to God.
SM: Um-hum.
VC: OK. Very good. I want to thank you all for taking time out to talk with me today.
CM: Thank you.
VC: I know we ended but let's just go back
SM: [Laughter]
VC: Because we were, we were just talking after the interview and you were talking about the retreat for married couples here at the church. Talk about how that retreat helped you as a couple. Talk about that just a little bit.
CM: Well, we call it MEG, Marriage Enrichment Group. We've been a part of it six, seven--?
SM: Sounds good. [Laughter]
CM: At least that long, if not longer. And it, it puts you on common ground with married couples who, who have the same concerns that you have who go through the same ordeals that you go through. And you learn that marriage is unique, but you also learn that marriage is ordained by God. And that, and that in a marriage, two do become one. And you learn how to work toward that. And wherein my wife and I have been married for twenty-one years plus. You know, we were up there with couples who'd only been married for less, less than a year.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: But we're able to share with them, "Hey, I--. We remember when we'd only been married for just a few months
SM: Um-hum.
CM: and, and what we went through." And one of the things that we learned was that if we were to get through it together then God had to play a major role in our, in our lives.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: That had to be the primary focus in our lives. And that got us through it, slowly. Did we have some ordeals? Did we have some trying times? Yes. Do we still do? Yes. But we're able to get through that because of our relationship with God, which helps our relationship one to another.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: So it's, it's, the Marriage Enrichment Group is just- and I don't want to hog this--.
SM: That's OK. You can hog it. [Laughter] But, no it is very--.
CM: But MEG is a unique experience. The retreat at Lake Junaluska is a beautiful serene setting where me meet.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: And it's just--. It's conducive to, to being open and honest
SM: Um-hum.
CM: and to sharing your feelings.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: Sometimes we don't share enough, even husband to wife. Sometimes the rat race that we live in is just not conducive to sharing. But the retreat, the mountain, Lake Junaluska, that kind of, kind of clears out all the distractions, and we can share with each other exactly how I feel.
SM: And hearing other couples share is strengthening. It's, it, it--. Like the young couple that hadn't been married long to hear the older, [Laughter] the ones that had married longer, not necessarily older, but share things that have gotten them through. It's strengthening for them as well. And to hear things they've gone through, and we look at each other and smile and go like, "Oh, yeah right. We've been through it," is, is, just the sharing part of it is, is most important and knowing that God is the center, you know. He is the reason, and, just makes it all so very beautiful. It really does. It really does.
CM: And I think, in the same context, we have to learn to learn from each other. We all can teach each other something because we're all different. My perspective or my perception is different from yours, but that doesn't mean that you can't learn from my perception.
SM: Um-hum.
CM: OK. What we have to be receptive to is to, you know, "I'd like to listen to you. I'd like to share with you. I'd like to learn from you, because you've seen it from a different side of the street than I've seen it from. You've seen it from a different vantage point." Well maybe I need to go and look at it from that perceptive. So the retreat or MEG itself kind of helps you to do that.