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Worship & Black History Month

February is Black History Month. Have you noticed that this theme has been woven into our worship services? This past Sunday Music Director Jordan Walker sang the African American spiritual Deep River.

Deep river, my home is over Jordan.

Deep river, I want to cross over into campground.

O don’t you want to go to that gospel fest?

That Promised Land where all is peace?

The spiritual uses the Israelite’s journey from slavery in Egypt to the land of Canaan as a metaphor for the Christian’s journey from earth to heaven. It’s an evangelical song. The question, “Don’t you want to go?” is an invitation to the listener to join the Christian on a heaven-bound pilgrimage.

On the 6th, Jordan sang Lift Every Voice and Sing (#339 in the Glory to God hymnal). Written by James Weldon Johnson originally as a poem to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900, it has since become known as the African American National Anthem. It treats the relationship with earth and heaven a little differently.

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of liberty.

Johnson’s hymn calls its listeners to praise God in song until the justice that prevails in heaven echoes harmoniously on earth. The hymn also moves us from praise (see words like “rejoicing,” “faith” and “victory”) to lament (see “chastening rod,” “blood of the slaughtered,” “gloomy past”) to prayer (see “keep us forever in the path, we pray”). It’s a vehicle to offer our entire lives and whole range of emotions to God.

This coming Sunday the choir is going to sing Glenn Burleigh’s Order My Steps. Burleigh, an African American pastor’s son, served as principal accompanist and Assistant Music Director for Lyric Theater of Oklahoma, and accompanist for the School of Dance at the University of Oklahoma. Order My Steps focuses on the prayer theme in Lift Every Voice and Sing while emphasizing the importance of scripture in “keeping us forever in the path.”

Order my steps in your word;

Order my tongue in your word.

Guide my feet in your word;

Wash my heart in your word.

Sound words, deeds, and choices come from hearts bathed by scripture and from tongues and feet guided by scripture.

The African American experience in American history is unique. At the same time, this unique experience has shaped faith expressions with universal appeal. African American hymns, spirituals, and anthems express our common longing for heaven, our common prayer that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and our common dependence on the Word of God to guide and direct us.

Worship with us online or in person this Sunday at 11:00 AM.

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