Racial Healing through Dance and Song
Laura Marti – September 1, 2021
This is Reverend Mia McClain. She is Associate Minister of Faith Formation at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. Mia is the first African-American in the history of Myers Park Baptist Church to be called to serve on Senior Staff in its 78-year history (founded in 1943). She joined the staff in 2018. 👏🏾👏🏾
My husband and I have been attending Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte “online” over the pandemic year, and recently a few times in person. We met Myers Park as a church when they were leading a civil rights tour of the south in 2017 and we were fortunate to be able to participate in the trip. What an amazing learning journey that was (which I will have to share another time)!
There are so many things I appreciate about Myers Park, but first and foremost is their commitment to antiracism, social justice and racial healing. Much of my own learning over the last few years has happened through events or talks or interactions I’ve had in this church. They are not afraid as a church to talk about difficult issues.
One Sunday morning (July 11, 2021) as I was streaming the service at home, Reverend Mia McClain began singing a gospel song a cappella, as she slowly walked up to the podium to begin her message. It was absolutely mesmerizing! At that moment I wished I was sitting in the audience in person so I could fully experience the power of the music. She entered singing Fred Hammond’s ‘When the Spirit of the Lord” (1998), and the lyrics begin like this: ”When the Spirit of the Lord comes upon my heart, I will dance like David danced…” I was drawn in by her rich voice and the joy it exuded.
Her message that followed, titled “Hard Times Require Furious Dancing,” was no less engaging. Here are a few things she shared that were meaningful to me:
“We could all use a little dancing. We could all use something that makes us change our position, adjust our rhythm, learn flexibility, in a world full of rigidity. It is in the depths of our despair that we realize our inability to ‘dance’—to shift, to change—is a hindrance to our healing. It’s a hindrance to our growth. The disruption of dance, the nakedness of our spirituality, may be our only way forward as we begin to build something new.”
She pointed out that it was not a coincidence that the TikTok app blew up during the pandemic. So many of the videos that went viral were about people dancing—to de-stress, to deal with their isolation, to find some joy and healing amidst the agony.
Rev. McClain then spent time walking through the story of King David dancing through the streets, accompanying the Ark of the Covenant. There’s a connection that becomes apparent, as she weaves the story, to the long history of oppression of African Americans in our country. She says, “The ark became a reminder that the same God who was with them in the wilderness, in their weariness, would be the same God walking beside them as they continued experiencing the ups and downs of life, the oppression and the freedom, war and peace, death and birth, sorrow and joy.”
“When we dance, we are re-membering—re-membering our bodies in a culture that has disembodied us. We are putting pieces of ourselves back together again after 16 months of estrangement. We are re-membering the muscles we’ve forgotten existed—the gifts and the talents that help make communities like this one happen and flourish. We are disrupting a dangerously sedentary status quo—a passive existence that prefers stagnation over liberation—that prefers deadly tradition over life-giving innovation. When we dance, we are re-membering the power of God that works in us.”
I find Rev. Mia McClain to be authentic, honest, insightful, passionate, and deeply spiritual. That day she connected me to God, between the powerful rhythm of her song, and her admonition to find joy and healing in dance. Take some time to listen to her sermon here.
Another thing we have appreciated at Myers Park is their “Sermon Talk Back.” It’s an opportunity for people to ask questions they don’t always get to ask right after hearing a dynamic message—a chance to go deeper, to hear what the ministers were thinking as they crafted their messages, and to interact on a more personal level on the topics or issues raised. Listen here to the Talk Back after Reverend McClain’s 7/11 sermon (starts at 1:20). She discussed some interesting things such as how we should be ever-evolving in the music and instruments used in worship services, creating energy in our bodies as we “dance,” the need for all of us to rest, and more!
Reverend Tara Gibbs was also recently brought on staff as Minister for Youth and College, and it’s so beautiful for me to see these amazing Black women leading the service in a mostly white, affluent church. 👊🏿 I’m so grateful to be a part of this congregation where I can listen to and learn from them!
If you’re interested in the song she sang, check out Fred Hammond’s website. He is a Grammy Award winning vocalist, songwriter, producer and arranger. He’s been a gospel music artist for over 35 years, and is credited by many as the creator of Urban Praise & Worship, a genre of gospel music that did not exist prior.
Because September is Gospel Music Heritage Month, which we are highlighting at Brownicity, what better way to begin celebrating than listening to some of his music!
Myers Park Baptist Church website. Also check out their Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Book mentioned during the Talk Back: Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective, by Dr. Karen Baker-Fletcher
Fred Hammond website