Unfortunately, this is not an image of the choir I knew, but it captures the spirit and intensity of the music at Maranatha Church in Portland, Oregon that I attended for several years when my daughter was young. Although my marriage to their son had ended, his family embraced me at the integrated, but majority African American, church they all attended. The church welcomed me wholeheartedly, and I joined a single mothers group which sustained me through some difficult times.
While it is impossible to capture even a hint of the music in such a church, I will try to tell you what I learned from such worship. First of all, there were no hymnals. It was expected that you would pick up the songs as you heard them. Fortunately, there were often refrains that I could learn quickly while I waited to absorb the rest.
Secondly, the songs had no set length. The choir would begin to sing, the drummers and piano playing behind, and the choir leader standing with a microphone. Then as the song progressed, the better everyone was singing, the longer the song went on. Even when I thought the song was over, someone would often start it up again and we were off for another few minutes. A soloist might be settling down, and a choir member would pick up the tune again.
Thirdly, it was very unfortunate that I had listened to a great deal of rock and soul music before I ever set foot in such a church. At first, I thought church sounded like the radio. Finally, to my deep chagrin, I realized that church had come first. Many of the singers I liked from Diana Ross to Aretha Franklin had come from deep church backgrounds.
Today you can hear large gospel choirs in concert settings. While they are wonderful, there is nothing like genuine gospel music sung where it came from and where it truly belongs, in church. After all it is Gospel music, and like the Bible, it spreads good news.