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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Church Singing

I went to St Paul's Baptist Church today in San Angelo, Texas. My friend Craig Myers, a retired Presbyterian minister from San Angelo, took me. He's built an amazing relationship with people in the church, which is all-black, over the years, sometimes guest preaching, and working on a host of social justice projects in San Angelo. When I was last working here, he said that if I returned, I should go to the church with him. I did, and we did.
It was truly amazing. The singing was from something out of my dreams. In particular, one man named Oscar got up and led a gospel number. It was almost like watching James Brown. He shouted, raised his hands in the air, prowled the pulpit and pulled responses from everyone in the congregation. I was fortunate enough to talk with Oscar afterwards. He's almost 70. He's had offers from bands to sing with them, but he says that his only reason for singing is God. And I can tell you, he was filled with the spirit.
The congregation sang some, but mostly it was the choir. I had a talk also with the minister, Fredd Adams, a wonderful man who also put on quite a presentation when he was preaching. A long way from the churches of my youth. His sermon was about praising God, and he quoted Bible text that talked about how Jehosephat (sp?) put the choir in front of the armies, when there was battle. "Lead with praise," he said. "Make a joyful noise."
I realized that it was not unlike the civil rights movement, where music was one of the few "weapons" or tools that people had in their struggle. Music led the way then. Given all of the struggle African-American's have faced in their history on this continent, I understand in a new way now why music has had such a powerful influence on their culture, and on ours.
I went to the church almost as audience member, but came away profoundly moved by the unbridled emotion and the wide open singing from the heart that filled the room. I wish that all of us could experience that kind of singing on a regular basis, not just as audience, but as participants. It's life changing, and life sustaining. Most of all, I just hope I get to go back again.