Power and passion
Center of Hope Christian Fellowship
There was so much going on at Pastor Sen. Maurice Washington’s church on Sunday, I don’t even know where to start. First off, I arrived about 15 minutes before the service, and the Sunday school was still in session. From what I could tell, it was a spirited discussion, with different levels of Bible stories told to different age groups. It ended with a song, “Come to Sunday School Every Sunday Morning.”
And let me tell you, when this congregation sings, they downright get with it—clapping and swaying. This is definitely some of the best music I’ve heard in my two years of visiting religious groups. And when the full band—up to five lead singers, bongos, congas, drum set, piano, bass, keyboards—got going with their high-energy gospel music … well, it made for an inspiring morning.
The sanctuary is fairly small, as is the predominately African-American congregation. I’d estimate the room was prepared to seat a bit more than 120 worshipers on the main floor, and there were probably 65, many of them children, in attendance. It’s an elegant room, blues and whites, with a cross above the chancel draped in burgundy, white and blue. There are balconies on the back and side walls. Song lyrics and notes from the sermons are projected onto the wall above the chancel.
This is also one of the friendliest congregations I’ve come across in my travels. I’ll bet I spoke to, shook hands with or was hugged by at least a third of the group.
The service itself was a bit different than others I’ve seen, beginning with reports from the Sunday school, an altar call, announcements—noon prayer on Tuesday and Thursday, Wednesday night Bible study (7 p.m.), a fellowship dinner on Feb. 15—personal witness, a call to the front for gifts, introductory remarks by Pastor Washington. Sunday morning, the Center of Hope Christian Fellowship hosted a special speaker, Pastor Leslie Williams from Florida.
Pastor Williams began his sermon reading Acts 1:8—"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth"—and Matthew 28:19—"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” His sermon revolved around the topics of power and witnessing to the people in the family and in members’ close circles, like work.
The printed word comes up pretty short when trying to describe what happens when a talented minister is moved by the content of what he or she is saying. As I sat there, I tried to analyze just what makes a good speaker like Pastor Williams so good, and I just kept thinking that a good sermon is like a song, with passion, syncopation, rising and falling levels and tempos. In Williams’ case, I guess it would be a jazz arrangement because he’d just get to rolling on one topic when the spirit would move him to improvise into a whole other movement, stalking the stage, coming down into the congregation, wiping his brow with a towel, addressing individuals, singing.
At the end of the sermon, Pastor Williams returned to the core message: That Center of Hope Christian Fellowship is having a membership drive.
“This is a new day at the Center of Hope,” he said. “Your name is so powerful. Talk to your friends. Talk to your neighbors. Talk to yourself. Say, ‘Come, just come.'”
The nearly three-hour service ended with an altar call with most of the congregation being anointed with oil by the many pastors. Many were moved to tears. This is a serious nondenominational Christian fellowship, and I’d guess that many people who are into a strict Bible reading will like it here.