Home News and Features Celebrating African-American Spirituals During Black History Month

Celebrating African-American Spirituals During Black History Month

Gospel singer and teacher Lonnie Norwood will be leading a webinar about African-American Spirituals for the First Congregational Church of Berlin later this month. Photo courtesy of Lonnie Norwood.
by Rev. Alison A. Young

The music so essential to church life at First Congregational Church of Berlin draws on many traditions, from ancient Gregorian chants to new 21st century compositions. One traditions we draw on frequently is the rich and diverse body of African-American spirituals. 

For nearly a hundred years we’ve celebrated the Christmas season with “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and mourned during Lent with “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” We’ve begun communion with “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees” and rejoiced with “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.” We’ve sung “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” at our campfire services and “This Little Light of Mine” at picnics at the Waterbury reservoir. We’ve sung those and many other spirituals so many times that they have become part of who we are as individuals and as a congregation.

Black History Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on the long and on-going story of discrimination and oppression told so eloquently in African-American spirituals. It also gives us the opportunity to celebrate the contributions that the Black community has made to our lives, contributions like the spirituals that are so deeply interwoven into the very fabric of who we are. 

So during our February services, the First Congregational Church has been not only returning to Black spirituals that we have sung many, many times, but also getting to know spirituals that are less familiar but no less moving and beautiful. Our hymns, preludes and postludes, offertories, anthems, and introits are all drawn from this extraordinary gift of music that so enriches our lives. 

In addition, we are holding a special Zoom webinar on Feb. 20 with Lonnie Norwood Jr., to hear about the African-American spirituals from the perspective of a Black gospel teacher and singer. Lonnie will sing, lead us in singing, and speak about the impact of Black spirituals in the Black church, community, and culture. He will move us to think more deeply about how we can build on the Black spiritual tradition to strengthen our awareness and expand our use of Black music in worship and lives. He also will encourage us to increase our individual and congregational support of the Black community and their extraordinary gift of music they have given us. 

To get the Zoom link for Lonnie Norwood’s webinar or for more information about our celebration of Black spirituals, please contact Rob Griffin at griffinsuter@hotmail.com. To see other Black History Month related events in central Vermont go here.

Rev. Alison A. Young is the pastor at the First Congregational Church of Berlin.