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Black history draws the faithful




Those were the words Sally Magnuson used to describe the series of events that marked Black History Month at First United Methodist Church.

Magnuson and her mother, Marilyn Ghiglieri, who is visiting from Illinois, attended every event. Magnuson's husband, Eric, attended as many as his work schedule permitted.

"The excellent programs have been a wonderful blend (of presentations)," said Mrs. Magnuson. "If more people could hear what we heard, how uplifting it would be."

Ghiglieri said she had read quite extensively about the contributions of black Americans. But "it just didn't reach me until now. You have to be part of it. This . . . has been an experience."

The theme for the monthlong program was "Black History Celebration." The predominantly white church invited its congregation and the community to see and hear about African-Americans' contributions in religion, education, science, medicine, politics and music.

The idea for the programs originated with Walter Dry, a member of First United for almost seven years, and Pat Wolfarth, who is in charge of Christian education and the children's ministry at the church.

"We called each other Mr. Outside and Mrs. Inside," Dry said.

The programs, he said, were to be educational, cultural and religious.

Concerts were offered on Sunday evenings and included male and female vocalists, a duet and a steel band orchestra.

The regular Wednesday evening Bible study group was given up to present various black community leaders and residents _ a minister, a retired doctor and a retired military officer.

In addition, photographs were exhibited in the vestibule of Duke Ellington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson, Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, George Washington Carver, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Owens. Captions explained who the people were.

A retired Spring Hill educator, Ernest Kight, loaned the church his photographic exhibit of the various stages in King's life.

Sunday was the culmination.

The Rev. Alexander Jones, pastor of St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church in Wilmington, N.C., Dry's home church, delivered the sermons at the 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. services.

Jones talked about what he believes are the two main elements of life, fate and destiny. He also emphasized that people don't have to accept their fates, that they can have a hand in making their destiny.

He used an example involving a lemon.

People who allow themselves to become victims of fate drink the juice of the lemon and pucker their mouth at its bitterness, he said. The makers of destiny add sugar to the lemon juice and rejoice in the flavor.

"Makers of destiny," Jones said, "are never afraid to be different or in the minority."

During the evening program, the Revs. A. Leon Lowry of Beulah Baptist Church in Tampa and Theodore Brown of Josephine Street Church of the Living God in Brooksville offered words of inspiration and history. Musical performances included a Spring Hill group called the Cousins, a Teenage Gospel Group from Josephine Street Church and vocalist Earl Harrigan.

Glenda Dry, Claude Thorne and Al Harper, who sang in concerts at the church during the previous three weeks, returned to give encore performances.

Wolfarth said February's activities were so successful that the church already is making plans to repeat them again next year.

In fact, she said, the church is going to try to continue to do similar types of activities every three or four months. "Not on this huge scale, but the Cousins will be back sometime after Easter."

Wolfarth said Wednesday evening church attendance probably tripled during February because of the black history events. "Most of the people who came to the very first session came to all of them," she said.

Ghiglieri said she is going to take the idea back home with her to Illinois and present it to her church.

Glo and Ted Reynolds attended every event. Both said the programs were the best thing that could have happened to the church and hoped they would be repeated.

"We feel sorry for the people who didn't come out to these events," Mrs. Reynolds said.

Dry, who was the master of ceremonies Sunday, said that 98 percent of the black participants were residents of Hernando County and that nearly all of the musicians who performed got their start in churches.

Wolfarth said her hope is that "one day we won't have to do this," that there will be a day when people are more aware of black history and thus there will not be a need for a special month.

Wolfarth said that as she looked out at the crowd Sunday, she said, "Thank you, Jesus, this is beautiful."

She said the church will never be the same because the events drew people together who would not have been together any other way.

Wolfarth said a large number of the people who attended the last day of events were from outside the First United church community, so the church was successful in reaching out and touching the community.

"We have learned and grown and have been truly blessed," Wolfarth said.