From what is visible in the photographs, the symbols and icons in the sanctuary read almost exclusively Protestant and Roman Catholic. In practice, Spiritualists drew on Pentecostal, African, and Indigenous rituals of worship, emphasizing healing and transference, vision and prophecy. As religion scholar Stephen C. Wehmeyer writes, “The strong sacramental elements in Church worship—the proliferation of Saints’ statues, candles, and icons; the use of blessed oils and incenses; the powerful presence of women in the Church hierarchy—[led] many non-members to identify the Churches with ‘Voodoo,’ ‘Hoodoo,’ or ‘Conjure-work.'” But at its most basic premise, to conjure is to bring something into being; to devise new experience, sensation, and place through the material and immaterial world, and through the body. A Spiritualist practice shows how conjuring and Christian traditions intertwine in Black southern worship.5
One photograph’s caption reads As in Moses’ Time, Members of the St. Martin’s Spiritual Church Remove Their Shoes during the Annual “Flower Bowl Demonstration” because during This Service They Walk on Holy Ground. Women gather behind the chairs, feet bare on the tile floor, waiting. Parks found a different angle close to the floor, sweeping down the darkened aisle with light pouring in from behind and illuminating the bottom of a woman’s foot. She is sitting down with her feet resting on the bottom of the chair in front of her, her arches curving over the beam. During the flower bowl ceremony, congregants step into a shallow pool decorated with roses and walk through its “holiness-conferring waters,” as art historian Sally M. Promey writes. When they emerge from the waters, they receive a long-stemmed rose blessed by the pastor. If she had just passed through, the seated woman might hold her feet up to dry while she watches others receive their blessings. Or, she could be waiting for her turn, lowering her feet only when it’s time to walk on holy ground.6
Watson stands in white with her arms folded in front of her. Two women are behind her, one with her leg propped and one with her hand over her heart. They wait for their turn to walk, appearing both patient and restless. Seated, a woman fans herself and looks forward—maybe toward the music director who might be leading the congregation in song while each and every person receives their blessing and gives an offering. Each person would have been blessed and prayed over by many as they circle the sanctuary to get to the pool. The end would be healing. To pray, invoke spirit, and lay on hands—all are restorative acts.7
Parks photographs Reverend Clara Smith blessing Watson, and others. A woman advances to the altar with a notebook and pencil weighing down her pocket. She stands with her left hand open and extended toward Reverend Smith, her right hand holding money. Reverend Smith lays one hand on the woman’s head, praying with and over her, and begins to move the other towards the woman’s open palm, which she will take. The woman will proceed, and another will follow and take her place before the reverend and the altar: a choreography of anointing taking place in the expanse of only two floor tiles. Parks photographs the moment from an aerial angle, and he centers the gesture and the exchange between the women. The prayer is held and heard in the space between them. The spirit of the moment whispers from their mouths and releases from their hands, emanating back out toward the edges of the frame, toward the photographer hovering above, and toward the viewer here, now.