1976 was a very good year. I was working at a good job getting paid more than I was probably worth; the third of my children and my first daughter, Tara, was born; we lived in a good neighborhood in El Paso in a comfortable home; my parents were in good health and lived relatively close by just south of the border; and I became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
1976 also marked the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by freedom-loving patriots who put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line so that the United States of America could, after the shedding of much blood, take its place among the world’s family of sovereign nations.
That was the year that my church called on me to coordinate the bicentennial activities of our thirteen congregations located throughout the city of El Paso. I relished the opportunity to participate in a series of patriotic events that brought together the various leaders of the state, the county, the city, civic groups, churches, political parties, volunteer organizations, women’s organizations, and international well-wishers. We all came together to celebrate with parades, fireworks, historical re-enactments, concerts, speeches, sports events (including an international marathon), dedications of new buildings and other public facilities, the burial of time capsules, and an interdenominational church service.
Our church’s men and women, along with our young people, joined with hundreds and even thousands of other volunteers to provide helping hands, food, entertainment, and set-up and clean-up prior to and after major events in order to make those activities successful.
What I thought was going to be a little church play developed into a major patriotic musical production called “The Title of Liberty.” It was based on events during the American Revolution and was performed before thousands of spectators in several performances on the stage of the beautiful El Paso Civic Center Theatre.
The various mainline churches and synagogues in the city joined together for a non-denominational service that was held on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July. I was privileged to sit on the committee with ministers, priests and rabbis to plan the program. One particular gentleman who shepherded perhaps the largest religious congregation in the city assumed a leadership role in the planning process.
At one point we engaged in a discussion about music. This particular minister made it known that he planned to bring in a “semi-professional” choir that would put to shame any other choir any of us might want to bring to the program. “However,” he said, “if you want to put a choir or musical group alongside them, be my guest.”
The pastor of an inner city mostly black Baptist Church spoke up and said that he definitely wanted his choir to participate. I raised my hand and indicated that I, too, wanted to provide a chorus for the event. He shrugged and said, in essence, “That’s fine if that is your decision but, believe me, my choir will blow yours out of the water.” I couldn’t help but feel some disappointment because I thought the idea was to work together on the event rather than to be in competition with each other.
On the day of the church service, the “semi-professional” choir performed flawlessly. It demonstrated great technical quality and the voices blended beautifully as it performed difficult arrangements of classical hymns. The Baptist choir, in the finest tradition of southern black choirs, rocked out and put its hands together with vigor as it sang a couple of traditional gospel songs. It struck a very positive chord with an appreciative audience who couldn’t refrain from joining in the celebration, swaying in sync with the enthusiastic singers.
My church’s 60-member children’s chorus sang a medley of patriotic and religious songs that touched the tender emotions of all those in attendance. When the service ended, the minister with the “semi-professional” choir would not take my hand or the hand of the Baptist minister but abruptly left the building in a huff. The Baptist minister and I became close friends. A few weeks later, he invited me to the dedication of a new sanctuary and sat me on the stand in front of his congregation next to the mayor of El Paso.
Possessing all the mortal frailties that we do, I suppose that we will never see eye to eye on everything—especially in religion, politics and football. But sometimes for the common good it behooves us to come together in order to achieve a harmonious outcome.
An editorial in “The Outlook” said, “It is time, not for exultation, but for searching of the conscience, for humility of spirit, for the heartfelt prayer of the whole people for light, for guidance, for strength, for sanity, for that passion for righteousness which consumes all pride, scorn arrogance, and trust in the things that perish.”