O, O Freedom…

Thanks to everyone who helped and who came to this service. It’s the most grand vision the Fallen Angles have put forward to date. It was powerful and opened eyes. If you didn’t make it, you can hear three of the songs and the eucharistic prayer on Soundcloud.

The full text for the curious is below.

Oh, Oh Freedom

A service of reflection on the words and music of Spirituals

Coordinators: Jo Connelly, Jennifer Henry, Keith Nunn
Music: Fallen Angles, Ian Grundy
Celebrant: Sherman Hesselgrave


This month our theme is “freedom.” We’ve been digging the roots of African American spirituals. We were particularly moved by an interview and song sharing with Joe Carter where we learned that spirituals were not just songs about God, a commitment to spiritual freedom, they also carried hopes for literal freedom and secret resistance. Sung usually as call and response, they extended sorrow or joy from an individual struggle to the whole community. Characters of the bible were often employed to tell the story claiming an intimacy to these biblical heroes, including the person of Jesus that would further validate their struggles, humanity and goodness. In the action of singing, the person, the community, could be free “on the inside” even when they were not yet free in the world they inhabited.

While some of the language, particularly the word Lord, can be hard, entering into the world of the composers and singers of this music was powerful for us. We learned and found the deep power of the simple lyrics and the weight they carried for their singers: a reconnection with a God they had been separated from by ocean and captivity, a hope for both spiritual and literal freedom, a way to pass coded encouragements to each other, and secret rebellion in the face of oppression.

This music inspired blues and gospel, and was revived in the imagination of the civil rights struggle, where many of the traditional spirituals were transposed into contemporary freedom protest songs.

Today we will try to enter into the spirituals and some of the music inspired by them. We invite you to come on that journey and imagine what the words might have meant for the original singers or those who later held these ancient memories close.

Musical Meditation: Hymn to Freedom by Oscar Peterson

Written in 1962, inspired by the spirituals he had listened to in his youth, this song became an anthem for civil rights.


Call to Worship:

Let us hear–
The voices that challenge,
The voices of the outcast,
The voices of the oppressed.
The songs of those who speak
in different tongues;
The language of those who
cannot speak at all.
Let us hear the choir of us all
singing together,
That we may become a world
healed, whole and free.

(adapted from a prayer by Marilyn Ferrell)

Opening Hymn: Wade in the Water Spiritual

This song was inspired by John 5:4 which describes angels coming at different seasons, dipping their feet into a pool, and stirring it up. Healing came to anyone who ventured in next. In the spiritual, the healing action of God becomes the more systemic liberating action of God and may have provided coded instructions to slaves to get in the water to avoid being seen or smelled by blood hounds in an escape.

Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God’s gonna trouble the water.

Well, who are these children all dressed in red?
God’s a-gonna trouble the water
Must be the children that Moses led
God’s a-gonna trouble the water.


Jordan’s water is chilly and cold.
God’s gonna trouble the water.
It chills the body, but not the soul.
God’s gonna trouble the water.


Who’s over yonder dressed in pink
God’s gonna trouble the Water.
Must be family don’t you think
God’s gonna trouble the Water.


If you get there before I do.
God’s gonna trouble the water.
Tell all of my friends I’m coming too.
God’s gonna trouble the water.




One: At many times and in many places to this day, we have found ways to enslave, and oppress our brothers and sisters, made in your image.

All: Lead your people through the waters to liberation.

One: At many times and in many places to this day, we have found ways to harm and defile your blessed creation

All: Let your healing waters flow and renew your blessed earth.

One: At many times and in many places to this day, we have found ways to harm and wound one another.

All: Trouble the waters, that in them we might find healing for your whole inhabited community.


One: The Peace of Christ be always with you

All: And also with you.


Hymn: Free at Last Spiritual

This hymn seems more radical in its earlier version, such as printed here, and became spiritualized through its renewal in gospel music.


Free at Last, free at last,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last

This is the year of Jubilee,
Thank God Almighty I am free at last
When my Lord set his people free,
Thank God Almighty I am free at last


I prayed all night, I prayed all day,
Thank God Almighty I am free at last
Til my Lord he showed me the way,
Thank God Almighty I am free at last



Hebrew Scripture: Daniel 6: 11-23 

Hymn: Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel

Here is an example of how biblical heroes came to inspire and validate contemporary struggles. The appeal/challenge to god in the last line of the chorus is especially powerful.

Didn’t my lord deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel.
Didn’t my lord deliver Daniel, then why not every one.

He delivered Daniel from the lion’s den,
Jonah from the belly of the whale.
And the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace,
then why not every one.


The moon runs down in a purple stream
And the sun refuse to shine
And every star did disappear
Yes, freedom shall be mine


I set my foot on the gospel ship
and the ship began to sail.
It landed me over on Canaan’s shore
and I’ll never come back no more.



Reading: Emancipation Story, as recounted by Joe Carter

There are an estimated 5000 spirituals in existence. They were originally called sorrow songs and many of them were composed spontaneously.

As a teenager, I met a woman by the name of Jesse Anthony. She was over 80 when I met her. She was coming to our church and we young people would go to her house to collect her and bring her to church. Well, here was an African American woman whose parents were slaves in Virginia, and she sang the spirituals. She had heard me sing in church and she sort of took me under her wing to teach me these songs.

She had a suitcase full of stories she had collected over the years of the spirituals.

She would tell me, she’d say, “child when they sang this song, this is what they were talking about, you know. A lot of people don’t know this.” And she had stories for every song.

One of the stories that I seem to remember that she told was this:

Emancipation day had come and there a group of former slaves now, on an island of the coast of South Carolina. And they were waiting for the emissary of the government to arrive in his little boat to tell them that they had received the deeds to their land, because the government had promised them not only freedom, but 40 acres and a mule. And so this was going to be a great, wonderful day.

And the former slaves had gathered together on the island waiting with bated breath and finally, they saw the boat of the officer approaching and they could tell even from the distance that his face was not happy. His countenance was somewhat sad. There was a groan that came from the crowd and one of the older women from the crowd just stood up and made up a song on the spot.

She sang,

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Glory Hallelujah!

Hymn: Nobody knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Glory Hallelujah!

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
Oh, yes, Lord!
Sometimes I’m almost level to the ground,
Oh, yes, Lord!


Although you see me going along so
Oh, yes, Lord!
I’ve got my trials here below.
Oh, yes, Lord!


One day when I was walkin’ along
Oh, yes, Lord!
The sky opened up and love came down
Oh, yes, Lord!




Memory Reruns: A Prayer Poem by The Rev. Jessica Lynn Ross

Written around the recent events of Ferguson, Missouri by Rev. Ross, the first female pastor of Mother Zoar United Methodist Church, a congregation serving in the North Philadelphia areas since 1794.

As the memories return

Like grass that finds its way back to a lawn just mowed
Like fire igniting from embers that were long thought dead and gone
Like songs of strange fruit that lull to mind the horror of what was

And is.

Memories of riding the bus in the city watching a lady of years
I wanted to help her get up the steps, but she just grabbed her bag
And hugged it to her chest.

Memories of fire hydrants drowning out our cries.
Memories of cold hearts of men forcing
Satiation of their unwanted desires

Memories of lines for little or nothing
Waiting, hoping, for help, compassion, sense.

Showers of insults, unprovoked, attacks for just being black.
Storms of hate that never seem to abate
And clouds of darkness, bitterness, more and more of late.


Emmett Till and four little girls thrust forward like raging rivers inside lulling streams

Weapons at the ready,
An ax to cut a thread
A bed of worry once again

Put your hands up

Pray for peace

Hands up

Praise The Lord

Hands up

Justice will prevail for we serve
God who cannot fail.

My hands are up to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
As my mind stays on Christ
And my heart cries out for justice and peace
As my eyes drench in tears

My soul will humbly praise The Lord,
The author of my years
My strength, my redeemer, my saving grace
Lord grant me the strength to

Stand up

Raise up

Praise up

And never give up.

For my hope in you can never be shot down.


Hymn: Hold On

This work day song offered hope of freedom through faith and determination. It became a more explicit freedom song during the Civil Rights Movement–Keep Your Eyes On The Prize.

Nora, Nora let me come in
Doors all fastened and the windows pinned
Keep your hand on that plow
and Hold on!

Nora said, “You lost your track
Can’t plow straight and keep a-lookin’ back”…
Keep your hand on that plow
and Hold on!

Hold on, hold on
Keep your hand on that plow
and Hold on

Mary had a golden chain
Every link was my Jesus’ name

Keep on climbing and don’t you tire
Every rung goes higher and higher…


If you wanna get to Heaven, let me tell you how
Just keep you hand on the Gospel plow

If that plow stays in your hand
It’ll land you straight into the promised land…


Gospel: Luke 4: 14-21 usual rubrics here


Excerpt from Speech of Martin Luther King, 25 March 1965, Montgomery, Alabama

They told us we wouldn’t get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, (Yes, sir) but all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, “We ain’t goin’ let nobody turn us around.” (Yes Sir)

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir)

Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)

Let us therefore continue our triumphant march (Uh huh) to the realization of the American dream. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated housing (Yes, sir) until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated schools (Let us march, Tell it) until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past…

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist. (Yes, sir) Let us march on poverty until…broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.

There is nothing wrong with marching in this sense. (Yes, sir) The Bible tells us that the mighty men of Joshua merely walked about the walled city of Jericho (Yes) and the barriers to freedom came tumbling down. (Yes, sir) I like that old Negro spiritual, (Yes, sir) “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” In its simple, yet colorful, depiction (Yes, sir) of that great moment in biblical history, it tells us that:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Tell it)

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Yes, sir)

And the walls come tumbling down. (Yes, sir. Tell it)…

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” (Speak, sir) …Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?” (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because “no lie can live forever.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because “you shall reap what you sow.” (Yes, sir)

How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)

Offertory Hymn: Woke up this Morning Spiritual

This spiritual was transformed from “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Jesus” to a popular civil rights anthem.

Woke up this mornin’ with my mind stayed on freedom
Woke up this mornin’ with my mind stayed on freedom
Woke up this mornin’ with my mind stayed on freedom
Allelu Allelu Allelu Alleluia, amen

2. Ain’t no harm to keep your mind

3. A walkin’ and a talkin’ with my mind stayed on freedom

4. A singin’ and a workin’ with my mind stayed on freedom

5. Woke up this mornin’ with my mind stayed on freedom

Prayers of the People: Rubric as usual

Eucharistic Prayer

Let us gather at Christ’s table and taste holy freedom.

With all the saints who risked their lives for others.

With all the saints whose dreams of freedom and justice inspire our own.

Most loving Spirit,
you have sustained
your people through the ages.
You know our suffering. You share our joys.
Yes, yes, glory be.

When your people were captive in Egypt
You called Miriam and Moses
to lead them to freedom.
They trusted in you, joining in your liberating call.
Yes, yes, glory be.

When your people were occupied by Rome,
You sent Jesus to restore their hope.
He freed the minds of his followers
and restored their dignity and promise.
Yes, yes, glory be.

When your people were burdened by racism and oppression
You called Harriet, Rosa, Martin, and Nelson.
They embodied your bold love and led your people in a struggle
to reclaim their freedom
Yes, yes, glory be.

Christ’s resurrection reminds us
that hope is never lost
and we raise our voices to proclaim
your power in our lives

Holy, holy, holy
Source of life and light
heaven and earth are full of your glory
Glory, Hallelujah

Blest is the one who comes in the name of God
Yes, yes, blessed be
Blest is the one who comes in the name of God
Glory, Hallelujah

On the night Jesus was turned over to the occupiers,
to the religious authorities and the state,
he gathered with his friends, took the bread, and broke it open saying,
Take, eat—this is my body.”
May it nourish us in the coming march for freedom.

Later, in the same way, Jesus held up the cup of wine and said,
This cup of blessing holds my blood, shed for all of you.”
Let it sustain us through the tears that will come.
When you do these things, recall my presence in and among you.”

So Christ was present to his followers and is still amongst us,
Present in the young black men who die on our streets,
present in the Indigenous women missing and murdered in our country,
present in the African lives sacrificed to greed—
present in memory and hope.

Together, let us proclaim the mystery of faith.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Recalling the death
and resurrection
of Jesus the Christ,
we share with you and each other
this bread and this wine,
giving thanks that you never leave us to struggle alone.

Send your Holy Spirit on these gifts,
sustenance for the journey to freedom.
Send your Holy Spirit on this gathered community,
inspiring the work for justice and peace,
that is ours and Yours.

May we witness to your dream
of freedom to the ends of the earth.
Yes, yes, make it so.

Lord’s Prayer

Communion song: Precious Lord Thomas Dorsey

A gospel hymn, this was Martin Luther King Jr’s favourite. He often advocated for having it sung at civil rights rallies to lift peoples’ spirits. Some say it was the last words he said before he was assassinated, saying that he would like to have it sung at the planned mass for that night. Mahalia Jackson sang it at his funeral as he had requested. Dorsey wrote the hymn out of grief of the deaths of his wife and newborn son.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
When my way grows drear
precious Lord linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
When the darkness appears
and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Closing Prayer:

Change our lives
shatter our complacency
press us uncomfortably
startle us with your word
propel us to true justice
until not our peace
but Your peace is made.

(adapted from a prayer of Helder Camara)

Sending Song: Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lyrics: James Weldon Johnson Music: John Rosamond Johnson

This gospel hymn is often referred to as “Black American National Anthem” was written as a poem by James in 1899 and set to music by his brother John in 1900.

Lift every voice and sing,
till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the
dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet
come to the place
for which our fathers died?

We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past,
till now we stand at last
where the white gleam
of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who hast 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.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
shadowed beneath thy hand,
may we forever stand,
true to our God,
true to our native land.


Send us out to dream of freedom and to march for justice


Postlude: Glory – John Legend & Common


What is the Difference Between the Spirituals and Gospel Music?

Many people ask what the difference is between the spirituals and Black gospel music. Simply put, the spirituals are the Southern sacred “folk” songs created and first sung by African Americans during slavery. Their original composers are unknown, and they have assumed a position of collective ownership by the whole community. They lend themselves easily to communal singing. Many are in a call-and-response structure, with back-and-forth exchanges between the leader and the group. A formal concert tradition has evolved from the original spirituals, with solo and choral arrangements based on original slave melodies, employed for performance by amateur and professional artists. Black gospel music originated in the churches of the urban North in the 1920’s, and has been the predominant music of the twentieth century Black Church. Each gospel song has an identifiable composer. Gospel fuses musical elements of both the spirituals and the blues, and incorporates extensive musical improvisation, with piano, guitar or other instrumental accompaniment. While the gospel tradition descended directly from the spirituals and the blues, the spirituals have also continued to exist as a parallel cultural force.

Source: Sweet Chariot: The Spirituals Project, used with permission



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