thought about the great beyond inspired the first Gospel Musical to be a gathering of racial and choral harmony during Black History Month.

“We can talk about differences all we want,” said the Rev. Mike Harris, pastor of Faith, Hope and Love Church of God In Christ in Elizabethtown. “But there’s not going to be any black heaven and white heaven. We talk about that all the time (at my church).”

That’s just one reason Harris, founder of the musical, is working to invite churches with diverse memberships to the 16th annual gathering that highlights elements of black history and more.

“This is an opportunity not only for African Americans but also for anyone else who wants to come and hear and share good gospel music, talk about our relationships, learn to communicate more effectively and become better people and better Christians,” Harris said.

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Years ago, even members of predominantly black churches didn’t seem to know each other very well, said Harris, who thought someone should initiate more fellowship and change that.

Today, the services generally attract about 150 people from a variety of churches, including some with a much different style of worship.

For example, two years ago a group from First Baptist Church in Columbus gushed about the energy, enthusiasm and musical and spiritual zeal of the musical — and said they wished they had shot video of the proceedings.

One attendee, who was church-shopping at the time, thought so much of the event that he did precisely that — and made DVD copies available to others.

Besides Harris’ youth choir, other churches expected to have singers on hand are: Calvary Community; Dayspring Church of God; Thy Kingdom Come Ministries in Greenwood; and at least one North Vernon assembly.

The services often have featured Scripture readings, poetry recitation and brief speeches. The Rev. Jane Sims from Calvary spoke a few years ago.

“Our music always has been an encouragement to us, whether it was the songs of the slaves in the field or whether it was the songs that grew out of the civil rights movement,” Sims said.

Secenia Harris, leader of the Faith, Hope and Love Church of God In Christ youth choir and Harris’ wife, mentioned a few years ago that black history is embedded deep within the lyrics of many faith-filled laments and praise tunes among black believers.

“This is the nucleus of black history and who we are — and why we’ve made it from Africa to here through slavery, the civil rights struggle, Jim Crowe laws and everything else,” she said.

Come together

What: 16th annual Gospel Musical featuring choirs and musical ensembles from several area predominantly black churches — and organizers are hoping for a few others as well.

When: Event begins with a free, home-cooked meal at 2 p.m. Sunday. The musical begins at 4 p.m.

Where: Faith, Hope and Love Church of God In Christ, 11401 E. State Road 7 in Elizabethtown.

Why: To promote unity and harmony among the churches, to build relationships among the different churches and to highlight elements of black history.

Information: 812-371-4801.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.