Last summer, a young man in our community was murdered. Teen-aged sensibilities, cars, drugs, insults and guns; a devastating combination.
The boy who lost his life was black. The kids who shot the guns were white.
During the trial a few weeks ago, tensions were high. Folks were looking for justice, for answers. Tension that has simmered below the surface of the friendly faces in the community began to erupt. The subsequent jury verdict of involuntary manslaughter caused a great deal of grief for those who felt it unfair, unjust and biased against the African American community. There were peaceful protests and marches and a lot of media coverage. The hot story for the media was, of course, the racial tension simmering in Powhatan county.
Not long after, some idiot planted KuKluxKlan literature throughout the county – surreptitiously, of course; stuck in mailboxes and yards, inviting folks to join their organization.
(Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth, just a little.)
Several pastors got together last week to talk about what the local church community could and should do. The silence thus far had been deafening; and so, plans were made, and in four short days, we organized a community Unity Service. And new relationships were formed.
Last night, after worshiping in our own churches on Sunday morning (still, the most segregated place in our community), we came together. Since we currently worship at the high school, which was to be the host site (thanks to the generosity of the Powhatan School Board), PCC was very involved in most of the practical aspects of the gathering.
We threw out an “all-call” for anyone who wanted to sing in the community choir, and scheduled a 4:00 rehearsal. We had no idea what to expect, but we’d put together a few song ideas and decided that we’d do what God’s artists do – we’d create something.
We ended up with about 75 folks in the community choir – with huge diversity. Black, white, Baptist, Pentacostal, Mennonite – it was a jumbled mess of humanity. And, oh, did we sing…..
I’ve never witnessed anything like this in my life. We sang loudly and it was glorious, all those voices. From the stage, we looked out over a crowd that represented every color, tons of churches – and many folks with no church affiliation, who just came in search of peace and unity. We estimate that around 900 folks were in the room last night, and it was an incredible surge of energy and positive power, reflecting the incredible depth of strength God provides when we humble ourselves to one another, submit to Him and just get together with one simple purpose: to say that we are His people.
We got news coverage, and it was positive. The reports did not flash back or focus on the negative – they showed a community commited to grasping hands and declaring that things could and should and would be different.
At the end of the service, all the area pastors were called onto the stage. Representing black and white churches, all of whom worship and minister in different styles, our leaders stood together to demonstrate something far beyond anything we could have manufactured. I still have no words for what I witnessed.
But I’ll tell you that what I heard was more magical and beautiful than any music I’ve ever created. The simple sound of voices singing together – minimal rehearsal, no assignment of parts, just instructions to sing – it was. absolutely. stunning.
I’m thinking that an eternity of worship doesn’t sound too bad.
On the practical side, here’s the way the service went:
You Are Good – Most contemporary chuches know this tune. We rocked the house. It was a GREAT declaration of the goodness of God, and an incredible way to launch the service.
At the Foot of the Cross (Greg Ferguson/Willow Creek) – This song has always been a challenge (for me) in it’s format. There’s something about it that has never quite held together in a way that’s comfortable. But the message in the lyric is brilliant and was a perfect fit for the night.
Five pastors then spoke, each on a different topic: Love, Forgiveness, Wisdom, Comfort and Unity. They each had five minutes – and of course they each went over, just a bit. Hello – they are pastors! But it was worth it. Each speaker was followed by another pastor representing a different church or race, whose role it was to pray. Beautiful stuff.
We showed A Thousand Questions
, a film from Willow Creek that is absolutely stellar in quality and content. If you haven’t seen this, you should. If you haven’t used it, you should. (You can purchase the dvd from the WillowCreekAssociation
As the video ended, we asked folks in the room to gather round for prayer – to find somebody of another race, from another church, and pray together. And the choir began to sing I Need You To Survive, directed by the amazing Aleisha from Little Zion Baptist Church. We moved into a creative version of Jesus Never Fails, with a call and answer from the choir that was stunning and so powerful – and rich for me, because I was able to just stand in the choir and sing.
We closed with Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) and I swear, I felt the heavens break open and the angels sing with us.
What a night. There’s little more to say, but my heart is full and will never be the same.
Read one pastor’s perspective on the night here.
Catch some of the media coverage here.
And here’s A Thousand Questions. Go buy this vid and show it to your church.