TWO BY TWO, the gospel choir strides in stylish syncopation up the aisle of Sts. Paul and Augustine Church at 15th and V. Their robes arescarlet and cream, and they sing and clap as they stream past the drums and electric guitar and amplifiers and piano to take their place in the sanctuary.
Got - this - far - by faith . . . Leaning - on - the - Lord.
Some of the people sing and clap too. The church is full: mostly black families and elegantly dressed women; some young white students; a woman in a wheelchair at the front; two priests side by side, black and white; a very old white woman whose lips move as she reads the words of the mass.
It is not like the masses of her childhood, with the majestic Latin . . . Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison . . . and with the priest facing the altar. The altar is still there, on its three marble steps, white marble spires pointing up to the tall stained glass windows of Jesus, Mary, St. Michael, but it is used no longer. The marble communion rail has been sawed away and the sanctuary is open.
"As we gather this morning," says the Rev. Raymond Kemp, a former pastor who has returned to say this mass, "let's take the broken pieces of us, the hurt pieces of us, the sinful pieces of us, the parts that are in darkness, and let us place them all at the feet of Jesus and ask Him for His peace."
On familiar turf, he greets cantor John Butler. The choir follows his words, voices surging with the contained power of a sea wave.
Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.
A gray-haired man in an open leather jacket steps from a pew to read Scripture. Father Kemp, his whole-wheat-brown robe brightened by an embroidered chasuble, reads the gospel, about the man who invited people from the highways and byways to his son's wedding feast.
". . . the invited are many, the elect are few. This is the Gospel of the Lord."
People: "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ."
Women acolytes bring the wine and bread and the offering to the priest's modest table. Two of them carry candles. A baby cries.
Let us go rejoicing . . . in-to - the house - of the Lord.
The director, Leon C. Roberts, 31, converted from the Baptist church two years ago. He studied music at Howard and Westchester State College in Pennsylvania. He wrote this mass himself and has recorded it.
Kemp's sermon separates the invited and the elect. He speaks of conditions in the Caribbean islands, calls for people to "put their body where their mouth is."
"Take us from the See, the Think, the Understand line, take us to the Do line . . . You are not here to be entertained. You are workers in the vineyard. There are a million things for you to do in this parish . . . ."
The light of the world is Jesus . . . .
The chorus backs up its soloist, Thomacena Nelson, rolling with the rhythm, clapping.
People call out names to be remembered in prayer: the sick, the troubled.
"Lord, hear our prayer," comes the response.
"The Lord be with you," says the priest.
"And also with you," say the people.
Christ has died . . . Christ is ris-en . . . Christ will come a-gain . . . .
People shake hands with their neighbors. "Peace be with you." Choir members embrace and come down to shake hands. Many shake the hand of the very old woman. "Peace," she says. "Peace."
Nearly everyone files up for communion, given by Kemp and a eucharistic minister, a woman.
Kemp asks for census volunteers. "You may have to pull some stairs," he warns. "You may have to go around in twos and threes and tens and twenties." People laugh.
As they walk out the choir members sing and clap. Some of them are on the edge of dancing.