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‘Still I Rise’

Black History Month service asks the question, ‘What is this something?’

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) celebrated Black History Month with an online worship service Wednesday. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — In recognition of Black History Month, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) celebrated Wednesday with a soulful online worship service. View the service here.

The service began with a virtual rendition of the iconic Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie song, “We Are the World.”  The song was performed by members of the historic Morgan State University choir. Morgan State University is one of the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The theme for the service this year was adapted from Maya Angelou’s poem of liberation and survival, “Still I Rise.”

In a powerful call to worship alternately led by Jewel McRae, the Rev. Carlton Johnson, the Rev. Alexandra Zareth and the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, (other worship leaders included the Rev. Lee Catoe, Destini Hodges and Angela Carter) worshipers were invited to participate in the service by taking part in the traditional African practice of call-and-response using the term “ase” (or às̩e̩ or ashe; pronounced ah-shay). The term is a West African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and to effect change.​

​There were poignant readings throughout the call to worship. During this portion of the service Johnson said, “In this season the nation’s character is at stake! ​In Black History Month help us to realize that Black history is all our histories. ​May the day come when these stories are so widely taught that no month need be separately divided.​”

Other moving words during the call to worship included this reading by McRae: “Guided by God, we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Ours is a faith that says …​you are a woman, and your life matters. You are gay or lesbian, and your life matters. ​ You are transgender, and your life matters. You are bisexual, and your life matters.”

The preacher for the morning was the Rev. Michael Moore, Associate for African American Intercultural Congregational Support in the office of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. The focal Scripture for his message was Psalm 27: 1-6.

“In these unprecedented times we get disoriented,” Moore said. “How do we find our way back? When I think about Black history and the journey of African American people, I think it is one of the most incredible things.”

“It’s this paradox, this paradigm to … the message of tremendous struggle Blacks had and at the same time, we’re able to praise,” said Moore. “David’s life is emblematic of it as well. If you think about the life of David, he was a man after God’s own heart. David went through so many different trials, fractured family and being hunted down by Saul. And yet David also had this something in his life that allowed him to go through his struggles and trials and get back up.”

“That’s the question I want to ask. What is the something that helps us all in the midst of our struggles, our trials, even our traumas that helps us get back up?” he asked.

The Rev. Michael Moore preached during Wednesday’s Black History Month service.

Moore went on to relate stories of two significant events in his own life. He shared of a time when he was about 13 and his mother was at the time nearly 50. “I remember being on the corner of Edmondson and Monroe [in Baltimore] and tanks coming down the street. I ran into the house and I saw my mother sitting in the chair and she was watching the news of the assassination of Dr. King,” he said.

“I must tell you: I don’t think I had ever seen my mother so hopeless, depressed and in despair. I’ll never forget that moment. The fact is when I actually began to start thinking about Black history and as a people, what it all means, I’m encouraged.

Forty years later, on his mother’s 90th birthday, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. “I remember walking to the house and prior to the election of Barack Obama, my mother declared this country will never elect a Black president. I remember walking in the house that night and when I came in, she was watching when Barack Obama and Michelle Obama walked out on stage, this Black family. People were celebrating and in tears and cheering and what a celebratory moment.”

“She was sitting there. I’ll never forget that moment,” Moore said, “that moment in Black history where my mother, for the first time, it’s almost as if she had adopted Barack and Michelle Obama and saw her own children. And that all the struggles of our own life were coming to this intersection and that she was watching this family walk out. She put a smile on our face, and she was so happy. She was so joyous it was almost as if she felt like perhaps there is hope.”

“That’s the kind of legacy that I think about when we start looking at Black History Month,” he said. “When we start thinking about all the dynamic heroes and heroines that came before us who left a foundation for us now to stand on, I realize we sometimes get discouraged and down. But when I think about the journey of so many who have gone before us, who made a road for us to be in the place that we are, I can’t be so discouraged. When you think about your fore parents, your family members, those who paved the way for you and made a sacrifice so that we can be here, I can’t be so discouraged at all,” Moore said.

Moore reminded worshipers that as we’re going through this pandemic, which includes racial uprising, tension, political chaos and perhaps feelings of discouragement, there’s “still something.”

“I believe the something is the age-old story,” Moore said. “It’s not unlike Maya Angelou’s poem where she says, ‘Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise. Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise. I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise.’”

Moore says rising can also be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“We don’t make the cross the center of our faith for no reason. We don’t love Jesus because he’s white or Black or this or that,” Moore said. “We love Jesus because he took thorns upon his head. We love Jesus and make the cross central to our lives. We love Jesus because he put the cross on his back and walked up to Calvary.”

“We make the cross central to our faith, not because of our different cultures, not because of where we live, not even for what we think,” Moore said. “We love Jesus because he took nails in his hands and nails in his feet. We love Jesus because he hung on a cross — and Jesus rose too.”

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