6 Pentecost: “Singing Freedom” with Holy Communion • Acts 16:16-26

Photo by Joe Alper, 1960’s Freedom Singers

worship format and original contentRev. Kathryn M. Schreiber (c) 2021

Format Shifts

As vaccinations spread, we are alternating between in-person and at-home worship options – staying flexible, more than meeting public health requirements. Thus, formats may change as needed for the church I serve. We continue to freely share our materials for use during the pandemic. If you’re sharing this content with a group, please see “Permission” and “Donation for Use of Content” comments at the end of this document. Thank you and God Bless!

For the BCCC Community

This Sunday’s worship service will be on ZOOM for July 4th Holy Communion. Next Sunday we’ll attend UCC National General Synod Opening Worship Service online.

We Gather

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” – lyrics from “Ella’s Song” by Bernice Johnson Reagon

Invocation (Psalm 150, adapted LTP)

Praise! Praise God in the temple, in the highest heavens! Praise God!

Praise! Praise God’s mighty deeds and noble majesty. Praise God!

Praise! Praise God with trumpet blasts, with lute and harp! Praise God!

Praise! Praise God with timbrel and dance, with strings and pipes! Praise God!

Praise! Praise God with crashing cymbals, with ringing cymbals! Praise God!

All that is alive, praise! Praise God! Hallelujah! Praise God! Amen.

Lighting the Christ Candle

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” Performing Arts Academy’s Elite Ensemble youth celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides. SCAN-Harbor’s Executive Director, Lew Zuchman, an original Freedom Rider, also appears in the video. 2021.

We Rest in God’s Grace

Prayer for Becoming (seated; unison prayer led by liturgist)

Holy One, we continue to sing Your praises in new places during this pandemic journey. We continue to lift up divine adoration in new ways to protect the lives of our fellow mortal beings. We are learning that, sometimes, singing together in a holy, enclosed room can be dangerous.

This Independence Day Weekend, Faithful One, call us to notice that, sometimes, singing together in a holy, restricted place can be powerful. Show us that the love we lift up to You falls down upon humanity liberating bodies and souls. May we sing, however we can, wherever it is safe to do so, speaking Your language of truth and hope for the wellbeing of all. Amen.

Silent Prayer

Shift into simply being with God, silently. A helpful way to enter sacred silence is to offer this simple prayer based on Psalm 46:10:

Be still and know that I am God. (pause)

Be still and know that I am. (pause)

Be still. (pause)

Be still and know. (pause)

Be. (pause)

Rest in God’s loving presence for as long as you wish. When you’re ready to move on, take a deep breath, let it out, thank God, and say, “Amen.”

Words of Assurance

Eternity rings with the sound of God’s endless love. May that holy song resonate within you, blessing you, healing you, empowering to do the same. Amen.

We Listen

Scripture: Acts 16:16-26(NRSV) “Paul and Silas in Prison”

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination. She brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days.

But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities.

When they had brought Silas and Paul before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 

Following these instructions, the jailer put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened!

May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.

Sermon “Singing Freedom”

Gotta Sing

Sometimes, when you’re doing a good thing, you get arrested because somebody wants to quiet your voice. Sometimes, when you’re locked up in the innermost cell, and you get to praying and singing — somebody wants to quiet your voice because you’re poking on somebody’s conscious. Sometimes, when you’re singing in jail, your sung faith encourages someone. Even if somebody else wants to quiet your voice, your song can set someone free!

What Paul and Silas learned in jail – Singing Freedom – others learned in jails and other dark places during Freedom Summer in 1961 as young people – “Freedom Riders” black and white – female and male – rode buses throughout the Deep South to challenge designation laws. Today, on the 60th anniversary of that summer, we lift up their voices giving their testimonies to the power of sung faith to liberate all manner of chains of bondage.

Singing Courage

In 2019, at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, there was a reunion of Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights, including members of the Carlton Reese Memorial Choir.

“The music was the inspiration. It gave the people a lot of courage that they didn’t think they had,” said Eloise Gaffney, choir director. She quickly “found a place in the movement” saying, “When we were talking about ‘We ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around,’ it kind of just fired [us] up. And it was Martin King that was the one that said this choir can sing them out of their seats and into the streets.”

Annie B. Levison, another longtime choir member, said that people came to the church to hear the preaching and the teaching, but also the singing. “You know how when you start singing in your church, and you know how it just catches on fire, well everybody would catch on fire, and when they get on fire and the Lord is just dwelling inside of them — they’re ready… that’s what you had to do. Get them on fire. And when the fire starts burning all over, they’re going to run. So, where’ you going to run to? You’re going to run out to the people and say: ‘Let’s get free. Let’s get free!’” (Annie B. Levison)

“There were influential ministers who preached power from the pulpits, but it was the church choirs of the Civil Rights era that gave the people a soundtrack that stirred them into the streets to stand up for their rights. “The movement was filled with music, freedom songs and old gospel standbys born from the souls and spirits of black folks and [their] struggles. So many of these songs also became the life-blood of the Freedom Riders, who braved heaps of brutality along interstate highways throughout the Deep South during the Freedom Rides of 1961.” (unnamed Huffpost reporter)

Singing in Parchman

In May of 1961, as Freedom Riders crossed into Mississippi “a group of nine men entered a white only waiting room in Jackson, Mississippi and were arrested. They were sent to notorious Parchman Prison and continued their protest from inside.” (PBS)

“Music was just as important as learning about nonviolence,” said Ernest “Rip” Patton, one of the original Freedom Riders. “Music brought us together — we can’t all talk at the same time, but we can all sing at the same time. It gives you that spiritual feeling. It was like our glue.”

“Singing was a way of releasing tension, so we did a lot of singing. A lot of the songs came from old spirituals, they just changed the words to fit whatever was going on at that time.” (Ernest “Rip” Patton)

“Ain’t gonna let no body turn me around,

Turn me around, turn me around,

Ain’t gonna let no body turn me around,

I’m gonna keep on a walking, keep on a talking,

walking up the King’s Highway.” 

Recalling being in Parchman Prison Congressman John Lewis, may he rest in power, remembered: “You get to the prison and a guard comes out with this rifle drawn, and he says something like, ‘Sing your (bleep) Freedom Songs now! Sing your (bleep) Freedom Songs now!’”

Hank Thomas recalled, “Because I wouldn’t stop singing, I got put in solitary confinement three different times.”

Being separated was hard. Rip Patton, told this story: “We had a small group in our jail cell and we had a quartet, and we would sing to the ladies late at night when things were quiet… “The reason for that singing, was, to let them know that we were okay. And then they would sing back to us and let us know they were okay.” (Ernest “Rip” Patton)

One of the young women who sang back was Joan Mulholland: “You could hear each other back and forth; you felt a little bit in touch. But if they wanted to stop our singing or control our behavior, [the prison guards] would take the mattresses…”

Bernard Lafayette, Jr. tells more of the story: “And we’d sing: ‘You can take our mattress, O Yes… You can take our mattress, O Yes…’ And we’d start piling up the mattresses at the door so they wouldn’t have any problem, so, we were with the program, but we were still going to sing. And we continued to sing… Music put us in harmony with each other. And it gave us support for each other; And we relished the opportunity. Even if you didn’t have a great voice it didn’t matter – you could hum. So, everybody could sing.” (Bernard Lafayette, Jr.)

Congressman John Lewis reflected, “Singing the music became a powerful nonviolent instrument. And I’ve often said, without music, without the singing, we would have lost a sense of solidarity. It gave us hope in a time of hopelessness.”

Sometimes, when you’re doing a good thing, you get arrested because somebody wants to quiet your voice. Sometimes, when you’re locked up in the innermost cell, and you get to praying and singing – somebody really wants to quiet your voice because you’re poking on somebody’s conscious. Sometimes, when you’re singing in jail, your sung faith encourages someone, even if somebody else wants to quiet your voice. Your song can set someone free!

Singing at Highlander

One of the places where the music of the Civil Rights movement was taught and written was the Highlander Folk School outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. “African American spirituals, gospel, and folk music all played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. Singers and musicians collaborated with ethnomusicologists and song collectors to disseminate songs to activists, both at large meetings and through publications. They sang these songs for multiple purposes: to motivate them through long marches, for psychological strength against harassment and brutality, and sometimes to simply pass the time when waiting for something to happen.” (Library of Congress)

Jamila Jones attended Highlander Folk School in 1958. She was a teenager, there to learn non-violence activism. Jones recalls a frightening evening: “Highlander was raided by the police, who shut off all the lights in the building.” She found the strength to sing out into the darkness, adding a new verse to the song, “We Shall Overcome.” Jones began singing, “We are not afraid… We are not afraid…”

Jones explains, “And we got louder and louder … singing that verse, until one of the policemen came and he said to me, ‘If you have to sing,’ and he was actually shaking, ‘do you have to sing so loud?’ … I could not believe it. Here these people had all the guns, the billy-clubs, the power, we thought. And he was asking me, with a shake, if I would not sing so loud. And it was that time that I really understood the power of our music.” (Library of Congress)

Conclusion

Sometimes, when you’re doing a good thing, you get arrested or harassed because somebody wants to quiet your voice. Sometimes, when you’re locked down by imposed darkness, and you get to praying and singing — somebody really wants to quiet your voice because you’re poking on somebody’s conscious. Sometimes, when you’re singing in prison, your sung faith encourages someone, even if somebody else wants to quiet your voice. Your song can set someone free for generations to come!

May Paul and Silas, and all the freedom singers sing: “A-AMEN!”

Special Music: “Oh Freedom!” See performance by the Golden Gospel Singers.

We Pray

Pastoral Prayer

Chain-breaking God, when we are imprisoned in mean, dark places may songs of faith rise up in us, granting us the strength to carry on, building us up into a stronger community. Today, we remember people who are unfairly incarcerated. May the memory of Paul and Silas empower us to seek freedom for all. Amen.

Prayers of the People, The Lord’s Prayer

We Celebrate of Holy Communion

Invitation

Welcome, welcome, singers of songs of hope and faith!

Welcome, welcome, all who praise the Living, Liberating God!

Welcome, welcome as we lift up our hearts to be fed and forgiven!

Gathering Souls

Let us speak the names of those persons, living or dead, who are not present with us in person, yet present in our thoughts and prayers. Let us be gathered together… (speak their names)

Consecration Invitation and Prayer

(BCCC folks, please use your Pentecost-blessed crackers and juice; Lay hands on your bread and cup)

Beloved God, we lay our hands on these items as did Jesus Christ. May Your Holy Spirit move through us filling these humble elements infusing them and us with Your courageous wisdom and freeing compassion. Amen.

Sharing the Elements (elements will be consumed after words of institution)

Whenever the disciples went out, they went out two by two, just as Jesus had taught them to do. Paul and Silas, together, shared the Good News of God’s never-ending Love for us, offering mercy bridges to reconnect what had been broken.

Whenever the disciples came in, they came together around a shared table, just as Jesus had taught them to do. Today, we gather with Paul and Silas, and the heavenly Freedom Riders. United, may we receive this mercy bridge – Christ’s generosity and forgiveness.

Jesus lifted up the loaf, offering his body to them. Jesus thanked God for the bread and he broke it, and gave it to his beloved friends, saying: “Take, eat. This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

After super, Jesus lifted up the cup, offering his forgiveness to them. Jesus thanked God for the wine, and gave it to his friends, saying: “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

We share this freedom meal with those locked away in jails and prisons of all types; those who are far from home or lonely; those who are doing God’s work wherever they are; those who are hungry for freedom and justice, compassion and care for all beings.

(eat and drink)

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Amazing God, it is You who calls us into and through life. You call us up and over obstacles. You invite us to bend a knee and confess our wrong-doings. You anoint us with forgiveness planting seeds of Your mercy in our own hearts. Thank You. Thank You. Amen.

We Give

Offering

During these special times sacred music of all types helps us be honest, healthy, strong, and hopeful. This week, let us take time to thank and support the musicians and singers, songwriters and sound technicians who have made it possible to sing even when we have not been able to sing together. Thank you!

We Continue in Hope

Song: “We Shall Overcome” arr. Robert T. Gibson © 2019 Walton Music Corp., a Division of GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Performed by The Aeolians of Oakwood University. Soloist, Chad Lupoe. Premiered Apr 11, 2020.

Benediction

There is no time, there is no place, there is no condition which is not ripe to sing triumphantly of God and God’s dream for humanity. Let us keep on singing, inspired by the faith of The Freedom Riders. Peace, be with you! Amen.

(the service is concluded)

Worship Resources:

(NRSV) New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text formatted, adapted by Kathryn M. Schreiber, 2021.

(kms) All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M Schreiber, unless attributed to another source.

(ltp) Liturgical Training Press, The Psalter

Sermon Resources:

This sermon was originally delivered on the 7th Sunday of Easter, June 2, 2019, at First Congregational Church of Martinez, UCC by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber.

https://www.pbs.org/video/freedom-riders-parchman-prison-x9xm4l/

http://www.oprah.com/own-oprahshow/freedom-riders-jail-songs-in-parchman-prison-video  

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gospel-and-the-freedom-ri_n_868299

https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-rights-history-project/articles-and-essays/music-in-the-civil-rights-movement/

https://www.thenation.com/article/top-ten-civil-rights-songs/

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright laws changed in early 2021. Please check with your denominational legal counsel as to the appropriate use of licensed materials, especially print and recorded music when sharing content publicly. Please observe ethical use of resources and follow the publishing requirements of any broadcasting or publishing platforms you use. Thank you.

Online Image:  Photo by Joe Alper, 1960’s Freedom Singers

Online Publishing Date: June 29, 2021

Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author. Please observe ethical use of resources and follow your platforms publishing requirements for all created content.

Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. If you’d like to support the congregation I serve as pastor – Berkeley Chinese Community Church – we’d be most grateful for your support. Please send checks to: BCCC UCC, 2117 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, Attn: Diane Huie, Treasurer. Thank you!

Living Liturgies: www.inthebiglove.com; Facebook: “Living Liturgies”; YouTube: “Kathryn Schreiber”

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