The Open Arms Baptist Church in Naomi
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Wow, that's a mouthful. But it's not much of a church—at least not on the surface. The Open Arms Baptist Church doesn't even meet in a real church building. It used to be a Pick-It-Quick store (probably a convenience store like a Rite-Aid or CVS), and despite what the preacher does to cover up the tiles that spell out PICK QUICK, he can't get rid of them. In the end, "he has just given up and let them be" (5.4).
We sense a symbol.
Check it out. The church building is less than ideal, but there's nothing the preacher can do about it no matter what he tries.
It's kind of like his life, especially what happened with his wife. She left. That was less than ideal, and he tried and tried to get her to stay, but he couldn't. So, like the church building, he had to make peace with the imperfections.
By the end of the book, he does just that, admitting "I've hoped and prayed and dreamed about [her return] for years. But I don't think she'll ever come back" (24.34).
And that's not all. Because there are no pews in the church, people bring their own fold-up chairs to sit on, "so sometimes it looks more like the congregation is watching a parade or sitting at a barbecue instead of being at church" (5.5).
Yep, symbol alert.
The church is a bunch of misfits, all sitting in their own separate chairs doing their own separate things until Winn-Dixie comes in and brings them all together, laughing about his antics over a mouse.
And isn't that similar to Otis, and Gloria Dump, and Miss Franny, and even Amanda and the Dewberry boys? Each character is a misfit in his/her own way, dealing with his/her own personal demons and sorrows and loneliness, but once they find each other in friendship, none of that matters.
So it seems like the Open Arms Baptist Church singing hymns in lawn chairs on a grocery floor and the mismatched group of friends singing songs in Gloria Dump's kitchen have a lot in common. The church symbolizes the potential of a community to come together, misfits, weirdos, scruffy dogs, and all.