You don’t need the voice of angel to belong at Unity Church of Jesus Christ — but it certainly couldn’t hurt.
Roughly 30 minutes into Sunday morning’s service, the congregation was still on its feet, lyrics blending seamlessly from song to song with a high-voltage delivery that showed the world why worship is the ultimate endurance sport.
It was, in its way, a heck of opening act to follow. Fortunately, being the president of a major university still carries a little bit of heft.
Penn State President Eric Barron took the podium to help the church launch its weekslong celebration of Black History Month, and had kind words for the group’s energy and enthusiasm.
“I have to tell you, you’ve already changed my day,” Barron said.
Edgar Farmer, a professor emeritus at Penn State and a church elder-in-training, approached Barron to speak after hearing his remarks at the 41st annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Banquet.
Barron, who arrived at the church in the morning with his wife, Molly, talked mostly about his childhood spent growing up in the south, where his parents were civil rights advocates.
Barron was attending high school in Atlanta at the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. After the civil rights leader’s death, he and his family joined the hundreds who marched through the streets in tribute to King.
“Atlanta was stunned by the magnitude of this outpouring. They were stunned by the dignity of this man,” Barron said
His father later returned to work and was greeted by probing questions from incredulous co-workers. Barron became emotional when recounting his father’s desire to stand with King before it was too late.
“I think he was wrong. I think it’s never too late,” Barron said.
The people of Unity Church of Jesus Christ seemed genuinely happy to open their doors to Barron — or anyone else, for that matter.
Willie Barnes, elder of youth activities, believes that kind of enduring friendliness and words offered by Barron and others makes a difference to a church.
“You walk in and you feel totally different,” Barnes said.
The church will continue to celebrate Black History Month over the next few weeks, with a focus on the congregation’s youth.
Youth minister Vaughn Wilson said that children will be encouraged to research the accomplishments of other African-Americans throughout history, especially those who are less well known.
“We want them to look at those individuals,” Vaughn said.