Bruce West's color photographs document the spiritual and creative work of a self-proclaimed preacher, artist, architect, the Reverend H. D. Dennis, and his wife, Margaret, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This book explores the fantastic world of the elderly couple who devoted more than twenty years of their lives to converting Margaret's Grocery store into a one-of-a-kind nondenominational church. Guided by visions from God, their elaborate transformation of Margaret's Grocery involved the construction of several towers, the creation of the Ark of the Covenant containing tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and new religious iconography. A sign at the entrance announced: “Welcome Jews and Gentile This Church Open 24 Hours a Day.” Another sign promised: “The True Gospel Preached Here.” Bands of high-gloss red, white, blue, green, yellow, and pink paint covered the towers and exterior. Religious artifacts, Mardi Gras beads, plastic flowers, hubcaps, and flashing Christmas lights encrusted the interior walls and ceilings and an old school bus. The Reverend used his church as a roadside attraction to lure seekers so that he could deliver fiery sermons and orations about the need to “practice living perfectly” and the ceaseless pursuit of spiritual wisdom.
The product of twenty years of labor and multiple site visits, West's photographs are both intimate and transparent, tenderly revealing the Reverend and Margaret's love of God and for one another, their commitment to their work, and their shared transformation while aging together. The images offer unique insights into the role of spirituality in southern folk art and creativity and the joys and demands of an ascetic and inspired life.