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‘This is what makes us strong’

Worship service kicks off the PC(USA)’s celebration of Black History Month

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — In a true celebration Black history, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s weekly worship service Wednesday reminded worshipers of the sorrows of the past and the joys of the future for African Americans. The service celebrated the gifts, skills and coping strategies of Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) as the theme for the month-long celebration “Resiliency to Recovery” was observed.

“We come acknowledging the traumatic history of unjust medical practices. We come lifting up the concerns of the healthcare and managed care system that too often are stumbling blocks for the African American community,” said the Rev. Michael Moore, associate for African American Intercultural Congregational Support. “We acknowledge and recognize that when we talk about Black wholeness and health, we are not just talking about the physical body, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of God’s children.”

“So, we lift up and spotlight — we even decry and agitate against — the interconnected intersecting inequalities intentionally fed into the system of white supremacy and the structure,” said Moore. “But on the other hand, siblings in Christ, we come to pay tribute to the incredible power and resiliency, the coping skills of past and the presence of this people in this generation. And we paraphrase it in the words of Lucille Clifton, who said, “Come celebrate with me, come celebrate with me between starshine and clay, my one hand holding tight my other hand; come celebrate with me that every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

The service started with a joyful rendition of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” sung by various staff members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly staff and soloist the Apostle Leonette C. Davis-Collins, senior pastor and founder of The Grow Place in Wilmington, Delaware, who later sang a powerful praise medley that included music from American gospel artist Richard Smallwood.

The Rev. Carlton Johnson, coordinator of Vital Congregations, led participants in a traditional African libation ceremony.

“Pouring libation is a ritual for which we celebrate,” said Johnson. “In both the presence of our Creator and our ancestors as African-descended people, we know our Creator through different names, languages and culture. Yet we are connected to the same source.”

“We invite you, our Black sisters and brothers and brothers and sisters of all hues who have joined us in solidarity on the occasion of this Black History month worship service,” he said. “As we remember and celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of our many heroes and the heroes of our community who have committed to be co-conspirators with us in our ongoing war against the multiple pandemics of COVID-19 holy brutality, racism, poverty and the tragedies of weather and climate disruptions, that impact us all, to join us in ritual today,” he said.

Lynne Forman

Lynne Foreman

Further commemorating the occasion, Lynne Foreman, a Mission Engagement Advisor, recited her original poem during the service. In “Your Soul is Golden,” Foreman reminded worshipers that “from ancestors past this gift is one of hope and the ability to press forward, taking time to recover while learning, growing knowing that self-care and preservation are essential to our well-being.”

In his reflection for the worship service, Moore recalled his recent visit to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Museum in Church Creek, Maryland. Moore said when he went to the museum, he was feeling discouraged. “I’ve been moving around these last few years,” he said, “and with this pandemic I’ve been out of sorts.” The museum is located on the plantation on which Harriet Tubman was enslaved.

The Rev. Michael Moore

“I had an opportunity just to walk around the grounds and I thought about Mother Tubman,” said Moore. “I was just trying to take it in. It’s one thing to read about something in a book and another thing to be in a space where you can get a different perspective.”

According to Moore, the museum was informative and inspiring. “I learned so much. You couldn’t take it all in,” he said. “Harriet Tubman, this little woman, this little bit of nothing.” Moore said he had to go out and contemplate his experience and the petite Tubman, who likely stood no more than five feet tall.

Moore painted a vivid scene of Tubman’s life. “She was raised as a slave and at the age of six really traumatized by slave masters,” noted Moore. “Working, carrying heavy loads like a man as a child, working in a swamp, pulling out muskrats, being brutally whipped and beaten for the least of offenses, just a little bit of nothing — then decided that she was going to leave. She wound up in Philadelphia, a little bit of nothing.”

A mural depicting abolitionist Harriet Tubman. (Photo by Kirt Morris via Unsplash)

Moore went on to share how Tubman began to evolve into a powerful abolitionist. He noted how she headed south in various places to liberate her people. “Over a 10-year period she liberated over 70 siblings in Christ and set them free, “said Moore. “She did this in the back woods, in the dark following a North Star,” he said. “There’s this little bit of nothing. She was able to become a nurse to support the Union army. She did this for so many years without credit.”

“I kept asking this question, how did she do that?” said Moore. “How did we make it? How did we come this far in our faith?

Moore says he began to think about all the other ancestors. “I buried my mother about eight years ago and I sat at her feet at her class. I keep this close by because we as African people of despair, we talk to our ancestors,” he said.  “We can call on one of our ancestors at any time and get instructions and directions. And so, I keep it close by.”

“So, I tap into my power,” said Moore. “I can call on my Mother Tubman. I can call on my mother. I can call on Malcolm. I can call on my heritage. Not only can I call on my ancestors, but I can also call on the name of Jesus, my brother and sisters, as you think about what we’re going through in this present time, the struggles, this season of madness, this season of confusion.”

“I just wanted to share with you that you can call on your ancestors,” Moore said. “You can call on the name of Jesus, and you can also call on each other as a family and community. This is what makes us strong.”

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