After the Election, a Sermon of Hope at a Harlem Church

Tiffany Pennamon @tiffanypennamon

Worshippers attend the 2016 Fall Revival at First Corinthians Baptist Church in Harlem on Tuesday evening. (The Ink/Tiffany Pennamon)
Worshippers attend the 2016 Fall Revival at First Corinthians Baptist Church in Harlem on Tuesday evening. (The Ink/Tiffany Pennamon)

A room full of worshippers swayed to the music Tuesday night as the choir at First Corinthians Baptist Church sang the words, “See yourself in the future.” In the wake of the election, church leaders hoped that their 2016 Fall Revival would help spark hope in the Harlem community, which voted overwhelmingly against President-elect Donald Trump.

Moved by the opening songs of the service, churchgoers cried, clapped, shouted, and hugged. Rev. Sean McMillan, the guest pastor, started with a prayer, asking people to hold hands with one another. “If we’ve learned anything this week, we’ve learned that we’re in each other’s hands,” he said.

Historically, black churches have been centers of political activism. This year was no different at the Harlem church. “This is a new face to an old reality,” said Rev. Michael Walrond, the senior pastor. “Why panic now?”

The message of the keynote sermon was that victory begins in failure.

“The wisest people have made the biggest mistakes,” McMillan said. “God uses failure for the necessary condition of possibility.”

But one church member challenged the idea of Trump’s election as a failure. “We can’t say we failed,” Karen Gadson, a retired social worker said. “I think that everyone deserves a chance.”

Gadson, 60, said she mostly ignored Trump’s use of derogatory terms against minorities and women because she is still going to stay involved to make sure that the President-elect does not follow through on any detrimental policies.

With many protests emerging in the initial days of Trump’s election, the church’s spiritual leaders called for the members to channel their anger and frustration into organizing. “[Trump] is my president, but he doesn’t define my possibility,” Walrond said. “There is no time to tell me what you’re against. Tell me what you’re for.”

McMillan also spoke about the need for more love in the country, a notion addressed by Walrond the previous Sunday when he stated that “difference does not have to be divisive.”

“We just had a terrible election, and love is standing in the shadows and dancing in the dark,” McMillan said. “Liberalism failed last Tuesday, but don’t pull your hair out. We took one step forward, and two steps back. But we never give up, and we never turn around.”

Still, some in the congregation said it was difficult for them to understand where the next step forward begins.

“I didn’t think too much about Trump,” said Sharon Martin, a retired registered nurse. “It is what it is. But we’re not going back.” Martin said she wasn’t worried because the Republican Party is already fighting within itself.

Other congregants were still hesitant about what will happen in minority communities when Trump takes office.

“I haven’t really had the time to process” the results, said Timothy Kimble, 23. The former paralegal said he has watched friends and family grapple with the initial numbness and fear for the next four years, but that the black community “comes from a line of people that have overcome adversity.”

At the end of the service, McMillan offered one final anecdote to inspire hope.

“In 2004, we felt the same way the younger people feel now,” he said, recalling former president George W. Bush’s election. “But what we didn’t know was that just four years later…‘I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear…’”

He paused and looked out over the congregation as shouts of “Thank you’s,” and “Glory!” filled the church.