Black Heritage Inspires Unity for Church and Culture

February 29, 2012

By Carl Stagner

Each February, you can expect Cedar Avenue Church of God in Sharon, Pennsylvania to have a celebration unlike any other during the year. This congregation recognizes the importance of observing and celebrating Black History Month. From the music, to the cultural dress, to the teaching—February at Cedar Avenue was characterized by praising God for his grace given to people of all cultures.

As a part of the heritage of African American culture, the music ministry at Cedar Avenue led the congregation in at least one traditional song each week reflecting God’s mercy and grace through generations of discrimination and struggle. “The singing of Negro spirituals and anthems is something that has been practiced over the years to remind the African American church of the sacrifices men and women have made to ensure we have the freedoms we enjoy today,” Toia Huntley, research and development specialist at Cedar Avenue, explains. “These are songs of struggle, hope, pain, inspiration, but above all, faith in a God who has the power to deliver people from any situation, great or small.”

Some of the songs that Cedar Avenue incorporates into Black History Month include spirituals like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” gospel favorites such as “We Shall Overcome,” and classical arrangements such as “I Hear a Voice A-Prayin’.” Huntley reflects, “It is a blessing to participate in the singing of such life-enriching songs; they are a reminder of the loving and merciful God we serve.”

Lest younger generations forget the lessons of history and the examples of God’s work throughout the course of time, Cedar Avenue Church of God intentionally includes student leadership in their February worship services. Each Sunday in February, a student presented two important, but perhaps not well-known, black historical figures. A few of these lesser-known yet great contributors to society included abolitionist Frederick Douglas; Dr. Vivien Theodore Thomas, who developed, among other accomplishments, treatment for blue baby syndrome in the 1940s; and comedian Garret Morris.

“We believe it is necessary for young people to know where they’ve come from and the impact they’ve had, as well as to give them a source of inspiration,” Huntley explains. She believes that these historical figures can be inspiration and perhaps a stepping stone from which young people can go on to accomplish great things as well.

Cedar Avenue Church of God believes that all churches, even those that are not historically black congregations, should recognize Black History Month. After all, African Americans have made major contributions to American society. “Not because of disenfranchisement,” Huntley explains. “Not because of affirmative action. African Americans who have made these significant marks in history should be celebrated because they have overcome the stigma that is attached to their race. It is a reminder that we are all members of one race—the human race—and they are all destined for greatness when we walk by faith and not by sight.”

This year’s celebration was powerful, but Huntley recalls some remarkably inspirational celebrations during years past: “Each year that we celebrate is a memorable one. However, last year’s Black History Month brought something that enriched our worship service. Each month, our Creative Praise dance team presented either a liturgical dance or a mime. The presentation during February of 2011 was exceptionally well done. The children entered the sanctuary dressed in African garb and danced before God and his people in a mighty tribute to black history. It was an outstanding witness because it brought together generations of people and cancelled the assumption that today’s young people have no connection to their black heritage. It was an awesome expression of both unity and worship.”