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‘Set your house in order’

Guest preacher sets Lenten tone at revival for black Catholics

LAUDERDALE LAKES | Spirited praise and traditional prayer blended at St. Helen Church as the Office of Black Catholic Ministry held its annual revival.

A member of the Mbofro Ne Nyame Dancers takes part in the black Catholic revival at St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes.

Photographer: Jim Davis

A member of the Mbofro Ne Nyame Dancers takes part in the black Catholic revival at St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes.

The service, one of three in February for Black History Month, boasted hand-clapping gospel songs and call-and-response preaching. It also featured familiar elements like Marian prayer and the Our Father.

But the centerpiece was the fiery Lenten message of Father Chester Smith, the guest preacher.

“If you’re going to make a successful Lenten journey, you’ve gotta set your house in order,” Father Smith, of Indianapolis, told his 175 listeners. “Examine your attitude; examine your finances; examine what you say; examine what you watch on TV. Take this Lenten period to examine your choices.”

Besides St. Helen, the Office of Black Catholic Ministry held services on Feb. 12 at Holy Redeemer Church in North Miami, then on Feb. 15 at St. Philip Neri Church, Miami Gardens. Father Smith spoke at all three.

“We want to revive people’s souls and spirits during Black History Month,” said Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, in her sixth year as director of the office.

Father Lucien Pierre, pastor of St. Helen’s, welcomed her ministry and stressed its importance in the archdiocese. “A black Catholic ministry has a place in the Church; it’s important that we support it,” he said.


Toe-tapping gospel

Four young women from the Mbofro Ne Nyame Dancers launched with a graceful performance. Then the archdiocesan black ministry choir led the singing of toe-tapping gospel favorites like “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus,” accompanied by piano and conga drums.

And Father Smith, a priest with the Society of the Divine Word, didn’t let the pace slow. At various times his voice thundered or almost whispered. His arms swept the air, with his hands alternately pointing and spreading. Sometimes he stepped out from behind the pulpit, approaching the congregation with more personal comments.

Father Chester Smith, a missionary for the Society of the Divine Word, preaches during the black Catholic revival at St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes.

Photographer: Jim Davis

Father Chester Smith, a missionary for the Society of the Divine Word, preaches during the black Catholic revival at St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes.

Using the occasion — the eve of Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent — he spoke on the need for everyone to “set the tone” for the season.

“Are you and I faced with something that seems so impossible today?” he asked. “We are human beings, but with God, all things are possible. He has a plan. So you’ve gotta get with God. You’ve gotta get your house in order.

“You’ve gotta believe that when bills pile up, God will make a way. Your brother or sister might be on drugs, but with God all things are possible.

“I said, ‘All things’ …”, he repeated, then waited for the congregation to reply: “… are possible” — then he repeated it again, prompting a second response.

He also added a bit of humor, saying that some people give up chocolate for Lent mainly to lose weight. “You’re trying to do the Catholic thing, but you’re just doing your own thing,” he said, drawing laughs.


Dream, believe and …

Father Smith urged his listeners to “get a vision” so they could “walk in the destiny God has for you.” That included not only a vision for their personal lives, but for the Church in the Miami area, he said.

“You gotta dream it, you gotta believe it, and you gotta — what do you do?” he asked.

“Live it,” the congregation replied in unison.

Father Lucien Pierre, pastor of St. Helen Church in Lauderdale Lakes, blesses a worshiper during the black Catholic revival there.

Photographer: Jim Davis

Father Lucien Pierre, pastor of St. Helen Church in Lauderdale Lakes, blesses a worshiper during the black Catholic revival there.

He then surprised some worshipers by calling everyone to pray about the “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” He read the list of the “fruits,” or personal qualities, from Galatians 5:22-23 — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — then told his listeners to decide which one they most needed.

Then he stood up front along with Father Pierre — as well as Deacon Thomas Dawson from St. Katharine Drexel Church in Weston — and instructed congregants to approach one of them to quietly tell them their choice. Then each man blessed the worshiper, making the sign of the cross on each forehead — then whispered to them: “Get your house in order.”

Reeves-Jackman, director of the Black Catholic office, announced that everyone there would receive gifts including bookmarks and a book of Lenten devotions. Everyone also got a pen, for spelling out personal goals, she said, “because you have to have an idea of where you’re going.”

For all the free-flowing flourishes, the service kept a Catholic discipline as well. Toward the end, Father Smith had the congregants join hands and recite the Lord’s Prayer. He followed up with Hail Marys, then prayed for protection to St. Helen, the church’s patroness.

Evans Fontaine of Fort Lauderdale said he appreciated the gifts and the service alike. “It was very good for me. Especially when the priests invited us to come up front to pray for us.”

For the John Baptiste family, the revival was a taste of home, back on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

“We have praise and worship there, too,” said Hilma, at the service with her sister and their mother, Eugenia. “It helps revive the soul and mold you …”

“… to energize you to serve God,” said her sister Helena, finishing the sentence. “I always look forward to praising him.”

Worshipers pray Hail Marys during the black Catholic revival at St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes.

Photographer: Jim Davis

Worshipers pray Hail Marys during the black Catholic revival at St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes.


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