The tune of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” rang from the bell tower of the Washington National Cathedral on Sunday, kicking off what proved to be a service celebrating African American history, culture and liberation for Juneteenth.
While the service also fell on Father’s Day Sunday, guest preacher U.S. Sen. Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) unapologetically spoke about freedom and discussed ways to achieve true equity.
This was not Warnock’s first time preaching at the Cathedral. For the occasion, he acknowledged that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a predecessor at his home parish, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, preached his last Sunday service at the Cathedral.
“[King] talked to us about remaining awake during a revolution,” Warnock said. “Here we are on this Juneteenth weekend, still reckoning with complicated nuances of our grand and glorious American story.”
Themes in Warnock’s sermon advocated for integrity to achieve equity and unity in America.
“We need a new vision,” Warnock emphasized. “There is something unseemly about using the poorest of the poor and the weakest of the weak as pawns in a cynical, political game. There are too many crooked places in our politics, too many crooked places in our national lives.”
As Warnock brought his sermon to a close, he admitted that he does get tired and can fall to cynicism, but he left the pulpit with an encouraging charge.
“Let’s stand together this Juneteenth weekend,” Warnock said. “Let’s stand together, let’s work together, let’s fight together, let’s struggle together, let’s pray together, let’s stay together until God’s vision for the land comes alive.”
Throughout this Juneteenth celebration, the Cathedral was filled with soul-strengthening music that has been in African American culture for centuries. After the bells tolled the tune at 11 a.m. on the dot, the beginning of the service kicked off at 11:15 a.m. with congregants singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” followed by “Amazing Grace.” The anthem “Total Praise,” composed by Howard University alumnus Richard Smallwood, was sung during Communion.
Motivated by the occasion were more than 100 members of the Prince Hall Masons, the oldest African American Masonic organization, to worship at the service. Members traveled from throughout the country to be present for the special Sunday service.
Ralph Slaughter, the grandmaster of the Jurisdiction of Louisiana, said a group of Prince Hall Masons attended service last year at the Cathedral and were excited to hear Warnock.
“He gave an appropriate message. He laid it out and gave everybody an inspiring message,” Slaughter said while explaining the importance of Juneteenth. “It’s such a special message, especially for those of us from down South. Most of our relatives in south Louisiana picked cotton and sugar cane. Juneteenth is such a tremendous day to have as a national holiday.”