Written by Gregg Brekke
Making its way through four states and three centuries, the United Voices of Praise choir will culminate its trip to Tampa, Fla., with two appearances at General Synod 28. The group will sing at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 2, and again that evening at the "Stillspeaking" party.
United Voices of Praise, a choir that seeks to transcend racial and denominational barriers through gospel music, is composed primarily of members of Fisher Memorial United Holy Church in Durham, N.C., and United Church of Chapel Hill (N.C.) UCC.
The seemingly unusual pairing is rooted in the African American Holiness Movement as well as in the Open and Affirming UCC tradition. Singing together for 16 years, the choir has traveled to Germany six times to be with partner congregations in the Evangelische Kirche im Rheinland, including visits to Cologne, Bad Krueznach, Berlin and Bonn. In 2007, United Voices of Praise was featured at Kirchentag in Cologne.
En route to Tampa, the group plans stops at Midway (Ga.) Congregational UCC and nearby Sapelo Island, Ga. Their route traverses coastal Georgia, where Puritans from Massachusetts settled and created the community represented by Midway Congregational prior to the American Revolution.
Under the guidance of choir member Julie Trotter and professor Lucinda MacKethan of North Carolina State University, the choir has been studying the "hidden history" of slave-owning Congregationalists in Georgia.
In the mid-1700s, attracted by newly opened lands and new legislation permitting slavery in Georgia, Puritans from the north created rice plantations in Liberty County and on Sapelo Island. After the Civil War, the white slave-holding community was mostly dispersed from Liberty County. However, a vital Geechee-Gullah community remains on Sapelo Island.
The choir will board the ferry to Sapelo the morning of Friday, July 2 to visit Hog Hammock, the remaining African American community on the Sapelo Island. Choir members will hear cultural stories told by Cornelia Walker Bailey, a Sapelo Island native, griot and keeper of the island's cultural history. The choir has been reading Bailey's book, "God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island." The book is a cultural memoir that details Bailey's experiences while growing up on Sapelo Island in the 1940s and 1950s.
To follow United Voices of Praise online please visit <twitter.com/UVoPNC> or <facebook.com/UnitedVoicesOfPraiseNC>.
In addition to monthly services at both churches, United Voices performs concerts in North Carolina prisons and community events, and has toured Europe and the United Kingdom.