Walking in the Light
Their voices are clear, rising through the rafters and toward heaven. The tambourine is jingling; the organ is singing; hands are clapping.
Joyce McCray-Pearson, her voice powerful and joyous, asks, "Ain't it wonderful?"
"Yeah!" assures the choir, nodding and smiling as they sing.
"Ain't it marvelous?"
"Ain't it wonderful?"
"Ain't it beautiful?"
"I'm walking in the light, the wonderful light."
Since the turn of the 21st century, St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church has asked others to come walk in the light with it - and celebrate Black History Month as a community. The result is the church's annual Black History Month Musical, which includes singers and church choirs from across Lawrence, and will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke, 900 N.Y.
"We are trying to reach out to the entire community," says McCray-Pearson, a steward, singer and pianist at the church. "We want to emphasize that it's a multicultural, community event. It's not just black churches - we are wanting the community to celebrate Black History Month with us and have something that they want to do to celebrate."
Among the church choirs involved are ones from Plymouth Congregational, First Regular Missionary Baptist and the Lawrence Indian United Methodist. Each performer or choir will sing two songs at the event, which is expected to draw between 200 and 300 people. The more the merrier, McCray-Pearson says.
"We are trying to make it the annual event for the whole community," she says. "Sometimes people think there's nothing that they can do for the commemoration - 'It's Black History Month, what do I do?' It's American history. It truly is. It's the history of America, and we just want to bring all people in."
The importance of song
The Rev. Verdell Taylor, St. Luke pastor, says he believes there's no better way to celebrate Black History Month than in song. Music is something he says has been important back to the days of slavery - and the beginnings of the church, which was founded 145 years ago and counts writer Langston Hughes as a boyhood attendee.
"For African-American people, music is so important in their prayer life - in their worship service. Since that's such an important piece, we felt it was an important piece in celebrating African-American Heritage Month," Taylor says. "Everyone in the faith community has their own style of worship. Music is an important part of ours."
Theodore McVay would have to agree with his pastor. He's been with the choir 20 years, ever since a woman sitting next to him in a pew told him he should share his voice with the congregation. McVay went to his first practice and earned a solo that very day.
He has been the choir's president for 17 years, and he's fired up for the musical. It's an event, he says, that sums up why he sings - for love.
"It's all about love. That's just the bottom line," McVay says. "All we're trying to do is spread the love of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ through the words of our song. That's it.
"He (Taylor) has let it be known 'I want this every year,' and that's what we do. We make sure we have it."
And indeed, Taylor, the church's pastor since 1995, has his reasons.
"Our purpose was to have a place and do this annually on the last Sunday of February," Taylor says. "It's kind of a culminating event for African-American Heritage Month for the community. We invite the entire community, churches within the community just to come and share."
Come and share - and have a good time.
"People should come because they know they're going to have a great time," McCray-Pearson says. "And they know they're going to hear some really, really good music."