The Church building is closed today due to weather. Please email us at if you need help with anything.


Twos-Day… 2-22-22…

What a fun conjunction of numbers!  At 2:22 pm on 2-22-22, I will be at the Philadelphia Airport waiting to board a plane to California to visit our daughter.  I wonder how many of you will pause at that moment to note that long string of 2’s.  There is nothing magical about such a confluence of 2’s… it’s just a novelty.  Much like the fact that today’s letter is #100.  I can’t believe that I have been writing these letters for 100 weeks.  I started writing a Tuesday letter just as we were preparing to shelter in place for the pandemic in 2020, and here we are 100 weeks later still looking for the storm to subside.

Numbers… They measure… and remind… and celebrate…  the Stern’s 51st anniversary… Mel Wolff’s 90th birthday… 2 years sober… 40 weeks gestation… 7 days with our daughter…  Numbers only have the significance that we invest in them.  Yesterday, we celebrated President’s Day on 2-21-22, a day that is not actually any of our Presidents’ birthday.   But we were glad to invest February 21st with significance to honor those who have led our country through challenging times, and for some to have a day off in February.  President’s Day was established in 1968 to celebrate the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln on the third Monday of February.  Before that point, those Presidents were celebrated at different times and in different ways in different parts of our country.

In 1900, a special celebration was held for Lincoln’s Birthday at the segregated Edwin M. Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida.  The principal of that school, James Weldon Johnson, had written a poem to commemorate the anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday.  That day, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was recited at an assembly before 500 students.  That poem would later be set to music- with words and music that expressed the yearning of African Americans in the years following the Reconstruction era.  (“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is #339 in our Presbyterian hymnal.)  The poem forms a prayer to God for liberty.
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring with the harmonies of liberty… God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,  Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who hast by Thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray.
This poem surged in popularity across the country, because it expressed a hope yet to be realized for African Americans.  Even though the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, formerly enslaved Americans and their children still did not experience the blessings of freedom in this country.  At that time, Jim Crow laws were being established across the South, denying African Americans the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education, and own property.  These laws effectively forced many African Americans into indentured servitude, controlling where they lived, how they travelled, even seizing their children for labor purposes.  Segregation defined the South, from water fountains and restrooms, to schools and hospitals.  The North was not immune to segregation, with “separate but equal” as an educational standard, and “red-lined” neighborhoods to keep blacks out of the suburbs.   How many of us remember seeing “Whites Only” signs?  We no longer see those signs, and our schools and neighborhoods by law are open to all… but still in quiet, significant ways many barriers still exist.  “Lift Every Voice and Sing” expresses the hope, not the realize dream of many Americans of color.

In 1997, our son Daniel travelled to South Africa for a concert tour with the Philadelphia Boys Choir.  It had been only three years since the Apartheid system of segregation had been outlawed in South Africa.  Daniel had the privilege of staying in the homes of some of the pastors who had courageously fought to end the Apartheid.  For that tour, the choir learned some of the Swahili “freedom songs” that black South Africans sang during their oppression.  The inclusion of those songs was a bold choice by the director of the Boys Choir, because the “freedom songs” had been outlawed during the Apartheid.  I remember bathing Daniel in prayer before he boarded the plane.  When he returned, he had so many stories… but the one that sticks in my mind was of their last concert, performed in Soweto.  Next to the cathedral where they sang, is the memorial to 600 black South Africans, mostly children, who were slaughtered just 20 years earlier for protesting the Apartheid.  When the choir sang Siyahamba (We are Marching in the Light of God, #853 in our hymnal), the older women in the audience moved to the front to join the boys in song.  Daniel described the tears that were streaming down their cheeks.  When I asked Daniel why he thought those women were crying, he said: “They are crying for the freedom they still do not have.”  I am wondering today, how many of our own citizens sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with tears in their eyes, because we still have a long way to go on the path to freedom.

February is set aside as Black History month- just 28 days to remember, to hope, to work for change.  But there is nothing truly significant about the number 28 … On March 1st we will still need to remember, to hope, to work for change, so that one day “earth and heaven will ring with the harmonies of liberty.”  I hope you will join me on that mission field.

With you singing the songs of freedom,
Posted in

No Comments