Co-Sponsors of Share the Journey 2019; a Concert for Compassion
Clarence Rivers would have been 88th thison September 9, 2019
Here are a few personal reflections
It was in 1977 that someone had invited me to attend a workshop down at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral. The name of the workshop was “Soulful Worship” and the presenter was a priest by the name of Father Clarence Rivers. I had heard of him but was not familiar with his overall body of work. Little did I know the effect this workshop would have on me as well on the catholic church in Cincinnati.
Upon arriving at the cathedral, I was struck by the diversity of the people who were there; and there were many. There were clergy and lay people. There were musicians and singers. There were Caucasian people and people of color. People from various parts of the local community and the country had made their way there. Seemingly, there was a mix of people from various social and economic backgrounds. I had no idea what to expect at this point; enter Father Clarence Rivers.
He was short in physical stature but his presence was powerful. He had this big booming voice and spoke with such authority and confidence that I could not help but be impressed. The eloquence and precision with which he articulated his knowledge and experience mesmerized me. He had it going on!
The workshop lasted for several days. On the last day of the workshop there was a concert with the attendees singing together as a mass gospel choir. That experience was a turning point for me as a church musician, a composer, and as a member in the body of Christ. Even with all the diversity within that group there was a unity and a single-heartedness that brought us all together.
The workshop and the lessons I learned were important for several reasons. Firstly, it introduced me to the idea that the “catholic” worship style could be connected with the black church traditional style. If it was done well, it could be effective. As a converted Catholic who grew up in a black church, this hit home for me. The words “done well” was the operative phrase. This not only held true in adapting the black church style of worship but it had implications for any style of worship. if the intention of the worship was to edify and uplift, it must be done well. Worship done well; what a concept!
The key to making it work was simply preparation.
We learned about the importance of ritual in worship, and how that ritual has a component of drama built into it. We learned that joy-filled and effective worship is possible if effort is put into its preparation. We learned music born in the black church tradition as well as music composed by Fr. Rivers. We learned that God’s style of bringing His people together was as diverse as his very own creation; therefore, to infuse culture, especially in a universal church is acceptable and in fact desirable.
My fondest memory of Father Rivers happened a few years before his passing. Our choir at Mother of Christ was invited to sing at the cathedral with some other choirs for a liturgical celebration. I really don’t remember what the occasion was but I remember it was a local major black catholic event. It was after mass and I was in the sanctuary gathering up my gear, thinking I was the only one left in the immediate area. Suddenly I felt a playful slap on the back. It caught me totally by surprise when I looked around to see that it was Father Rivers. He had this huge smile on his face as he shook my hand and asked how I was doing. I had not seen him in several years but he made it a point to come up and greet me. Although the conversation was brief, it was still an unforgettable moment for me. I guess it was the feeling of being validated by him since he sought me out. That moment still touches me. The first place I met him was the last place I saw him. As the old folks always say: “You never know.”
R.I.P. Father Rivers.