MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Rev. Al Green was due to sing in Los Angeles on Monday (Aug. 14) at a party following the opening of the Democratic convention, but Sunday he sang and preached unconditional love in his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle, before a throng that included a group of Japanese tourists dressed as Elvis Presley.
When he's not on the road, Green preaches the gospel of the love and happiness of Jesus from the pulpit of this church in his hometown, where Sunday's congregation numbered fewer than 100 people, split between tourists and regular members.
"He's the most beautiful person in the world," Jaimie Kroot, 35, of San Francisco, said. "All I can say is the man has got God stuck in his throat."
The unassuming church building lies within a few blocks of Graceland, the former home and current shrine to Presley, and attending the Sunday morning service were 25 members of the Tokyo Elvis Fan Club, in full King of Rock 'n' Roll regalia.
The inside of the building is as unassuming as its exterior, with a simple wooden cross hanging over the pulpit. On a back wall were two folk-art style paintings — one of Jesus, the other a depiction of an urban scene with cars piled up and crashed as the souls of the accepted ascend to heaven.
The service began with music from the choir and a devotion from the deacons. Rev. Green sat beatifically in his white-and-red robe, looking out over the congregation, then rose to the pulpit and welcomed all the visitors, reading their names from the sign-in book. The Tokyo Elvis fans were hard to miss, and Green amused them with a snippet of one of the King of Rock 'n' Roll's songs.
"Teddy bear, be my ... teddy bear," he crooned in an Elvis-like voice, getting a roar of laughter from the crowd.
"This is the only church where you can hear the word and have fun," Green said. "You have to laugh at yourself."
Green, whose autobiography, "Take Me to the River," will be in bookstores in September, continued to play to the crowd. He sang a brief refrain of his classic "Love and Happiness" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Amazing Grace" before getting into his sermon.
"If you believe in amazing grace, then I don't have much to do today," Green said with a smile. "Too many try to bless themselves in the world today, but you got to let go and let God do it," he added.
The sermon consisted of a reading from 1 Corinthians 13 in the New Testament, focused on the notion of unconditional love.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal," Green recited. "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity," he continued.
"It's nearly impossible to appreciate Green's music without being able to appreciate that this is where it all comes from," California resident Joel Blum, 43, said.
Local appreciation of Green was expressed last month, when the Memphis city council voted to change the name of Hale Road, on which the church is located, to Reverend Al Green Road. A collection of Green's sermons can be found at his Web site, www.algreen.com.