White on Black

The A.M.E. church was formed 200 years ago by Richard Allen, who broke away from the white-dominated Methodist church because it refused to allow blacks to take communion. Although generally more subdued than their Southern Baptist cousins, Mount Hermon's members don't lack spirit. "We are an emotional people," says Ayres with dignity. "Mount Hermon is a spirited church. Every church doesn't react like we do. We feel that when the spirit hits you, you rejoice in the Lord."

A group of young singers from the Better Way Foundation, a drug rehabilitation program, steps to the dais. The church pianist tears into the first strains of a bluesy number, and for the next half-hour the quintet stirs, rocks, and cradles the congregation. "Yes, sir, yessir," affirms one of the women sitting behind Andre and me. "Look at the kids," Andre says, pointing toward a row of children swaying and clapping in one of the pews. Even the stewards and reverends sitting on the dais wave their hands, stand, clap, punctuate the songs with Amens.

During the two-hour service, several congregation members step to the front to speak. One young woman presents her dad with his Father's Day gift. A proud, elderly woman, whose legs have been amputated, is helped to the front of the church to speak. She's recently moved to Miami from another city in Northern Florida, she says, and brings with her a letter of referral from her former pastor. She emotionally explains her desire to continue doing God's work. "Everyone has the opportunity to participate in the service," Jenkins says. "We try to include everyone."

As the closing hymn begins, Jenkins signals for everyone to rise and join hands. Andre is on my right, but I'm sitting across the aisle from my nearest neighbor. She steps into the space between us; I move out from the pew and extend my hand. At the end of the hymn, we all raise our clasped hands high and join the choir in the last prolonged Amen.

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