- 29 Sep 08, 11:00 AM GMT
In a country where showbiz and religion are well acquainted, the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Memphis must top some sort of chart. Its resident pastor is a genuine, bona fide music legend.
Al Green recorded a string of soul classics in the early 1970s, including Take Me To the River and Tired of Being Alone. However, he turned to God following an incident in 1974 in which a girlfriend doused him with a pan of hot grits before shooting herself dead.
Ordained as a minister in 1976, Green has preached at the Tabernacle ever since. I turned up for a morning service wondering if the stardust of his other career might have been sprinkled on the act of worship here. What I found instead was a modest building in a working-class black neighbourhood, where the unabashed enthusiasm of the faithful was infectious.
I'd never been to a gospel service before, and the force of the choir struck me as soon as I stepped through the doors. The congregation, maybe 200 strong, was clapping, dancing and singing. I hadn't realised you were allowed to have this much fun in church.
During a rare break in the music, myself and the other visitors were asked to stand so we could be applauded: normally I'd be mortified to be singled out like this, but I felt genuine warmth from those around me.
Al Green himself was a captivating preacher. He delivered his sermon underscored by a live band, and would break into song when duly inspired. The congregation whooped their appreciation as he rhapsodised about God's mercy and love.
He was sensitive enough to their concerns, too, to address a subject that was clearly worrying his flock: Congress's Wall Street bail-out and its implications for their homes and livelihoods.
"Get us out of this mess," Green implored the Almighty, to cheers from the congregation. "Help the country out of this financial crisis."
Worshippers called back their approval: uh-huh. That's right. Tell it like it is.
Green wasn't just relying on the Lord to deliver the United States from economic turmoil, however. Later, he acknowledged that he had hopes for a more earthly force, too.
"I'm no politician," he said. "But the senator from Chicago - it seems like he's got some good ideas."
Winning support from a pastor has not, of course, always benefited Barack Obama in the past. But given his popularity in this room, Al Green seemed a good person to get on-side.
Outside the church, members of the congregation were, if anything, even more vocal about their anxieties over the bail-out.
When Edith Walker-Wilkins spotted my notebook, she wasted no time in telling me how tough things were for people in Memphis. The 58-year-old was juggling several part-time jobs, and it was an affront to her that Wall Street banks were being handed so much in public funds when ordinary people were struggling.
Edith produced a blank voter registration form from her handbag. If she met anyone in the street who hadn't filled one in, she told me, she would thrust it into their hands.
"We're in need of change," she told me. "You have people who are starving, people with no health cover.
"If the economy had been managed properly in the first place, we wouldn't need this bail-out."
She wasn't the only one who was angry. Barbara Perry was a big Al Green fan who had come all the way from Baltimore, Maryland, to hear him preach.
After a visit to Memphis's National Civil Rights Museum, Barbara, 65, was also passionate about exercising her hard-won freedoms. "If someone doesn't vote," she told me, "they should be beheaded."
Barbara had been a Hillary Clinton supporter right until the former First Lady dropped out of the race, but was now right behind Obama.
She'd be fine whatever happened on the markets, she said - she was retired, and her mortgage had been paid off. But she worried that her daughter now stood little chance of getting on the property ladder.
I asked what she thought of the deal on Capitol Hill. "I just hope that it's going to benefit everyone," she replied, with an eyebrow raised.
But I did meet one worshipper who was right behind the deal. Herman Paterson was a deacon at the church. He also ran an interior design firm, and had seen orders drop by 20%.
He wanted Washington to stimulate the market, and was confident that Congress's deal would do the trick.
"I think it's a good idea overall," he said. "It will be a good shot in the arm for the higher echelons.
"A lot of the money requested will trickle back down to the lower echelons."
Different visions of how the economy should be run, sure enough. Al Green certainly presides over a broad church.
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