On Sunday, Woodlawn Chapel will welcome the Festival of Sound singers, an African American gospel chorus. They’ll be singing in worship in honor of black history month.
They’ll also help us hear how history mixes with the chorus of current realities.
That thought occurred to me a few years ago as I was standing in a small cemetery near Eureka. The original farmlands in the area are giving way to golf courses and big homes, but the slender burial ground continues operations just as it has since the 1800s.
After we had finished with the committal service, I heard some of the family talking. They pointed out the burial sites of relatives and friends and then pointed toward an unmarked plot of ground. “That’s where they buried the slaves,” one person said. No markers, no monuments, just an open area.
If you listen, it is not hard to hear history’s sounds. It takes effort—just as it took effort for me to realize that slavery was not just an institution associated with the world of big southern plantations. The Meramec River is a long way from the deep south.
It’s a privilege for us to welcome the chorus because they help us remember that there is more to church history than what we may have learned. For example, in seminary, I learned that Francis Makemie was the founder of American Presbyterianism in 1706, but I didn’t learn that in 1792 Absalom Jones founded the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. I knew that Presbyterians split into northern and southern factions during the Civil War, but I did not know about the ministry of John Gloucester, a former slave who founded the first African American Presbyterian church in Philadelphia in 1811.
Join us as the Festival of Sound leads us in worship, and listen for how the Spirit is speaking to us today.