An alignment of music, voice, and presence fill the homes of viewers as we virtually step into the Rose of Sharon Fellowship in Stamford, Connecticut. The rose of sharon, or shrub of alphea, is a hibiscus bush. Like bamboo, it is tough and durable. Yet, its strength does not restrict its growth, it flourishes and is not rigid. This plant is a vivid and accurate analogy for the powerful community we met on the evening of November 12th, 2020.
Worship and Music
Apostle Dukes, Minister Trenda Palmer, and Bishop James E. Hinton Jr. direct the church services, which are uplifting experiences for all.
Psalm 150* comes to life at the Rose of Sharon Fellowship. The masks of worshippers cannot obstruct the soul, song, and spirit radiating from their prayers. Music is central to worship. Bishop Hinton Jr. states: “Music is an instrument for worship, creating an atmosphere that allows the word of God to be more present.” The voice echoes one’s deepest self - the soul. Music is an amplification of that call. When one congregant sings or prays, the room resonates with an impassioned response. “We are an interactive church” where call and response is integral to devotion.
The church leaders stress that veneration of the Divine is for the good times and for the bad. Nothing precludes praise of God, not the deepest horrors of death or destruction. Despite difficulty, this community “defies the devil” and lifts their hands in praise of the Almighty.
The Apostle, Minister, and Bishop affirm that their church is a safe space where there is no shame in worship. They describe their customs, including “speak[ing] in tongues, the lay[ing] of hands, and believ[ing] in miracles.”
Gratitude and awe are prevalent in the voices of all who share their spiritual journeys. Worshippers describe God as beyond the self and all of its limitations. Members speak of a God that transforms through immediacy, inspiration, and intimacy.
Shaun Padilla has been part of the church for 19 years and is one of the church’s two musicians. “Music sets the tone of worship, it is not just entertainment,” he states. When asked by participants in the visit whether there are specific musical pieces that he prepares he says “whatever God gives me to play, I play.” Highlighting the role of the spirit, moving members and leaders of worship to an immediate connection to God. His piano is like a limb on his body, he brings it everywhere, even to work. His coworkers ask him to turn up the radio. He chuckles and explains that it is his keyboard!
“Worship can break you down and release hard things,” Shaun reflects. The worshippers “must be ready to let those things go.”
Tyrrell Smith is the drummer for the church services, and also vocalizes. He describes the synergy between life, music, and Godself. “Scripture tells us that everything that has breath praises the Lord.” Music is not just an instrument or our voices, but praise of God.
Debbie Blue came to the church after a dark period in her life. Her membership ushered hope and light into that despair. “It facilitated the transition from who I was to who I am.” Crystal Amaye exclaims: “Finding the right church is finding God. I talk to Him all day but here I can celebrate Him. We can [...] kick off our shoes, scream, it is all welcome [...] the spirit of the Lord dwells here. How awesome is that?”
Upon exiting the church, worshippers bid farewell to an armored man. The knight serves as a reminder of Ephesians 6:11, which instructs devotees to (in the words of the Bishop): “put on the full armor of God by girding oneself with the sword - which is the bible, putting on the helmet of salvation, and wearing the belt of truth….This allows you to be prepared for any battle that takes place.”
Yet regardless of the church’s design, Minister Palmer affirms that the church is: “not only about the four walls” - highlighting that a religious place of worship is a container for God, not equal to God. It is the community that “allows the holy spirit to move” in prayer and in their service of others. Debbie speaks about her personal experience: “when one is hurting we all hurt, we give, whatever to whoever it may be.” Being a part of this church is more than a membership, it is giving one's life to the Lord.
King James Version:
Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.