The Union Temple Baptist Church called its Saturday night fundraiser at the Hilton an "evening of elegance." And it was, featuring the voices of the church choir, the song and dance of the D.C. Youth Ensemble (which performed everything from a "Guys and Dolls" pastiche to a Motown medley), a clothes and furs fashion show, and a series of memorable soul hits from the Rainbows.
The elegance got a little red-eyed by the time headliner Melba Moore appeared at 1 a.m., but the enthusiastic audience, saluting church work as well as elegance, showed no sign of fatigue.
"Tonight's a coming together," said the Rev. Willie Wilson at a reception before the show, "displaying the talents of members of the church and the cooperation between city government and church in terms of meeting critical problems in the community."
For Anacostia-based Union Temple, those problems include hunger, dire housing conditions, alcohol and drug abuse, and teen-age delinquency. The latest community outreach by the church is a $2 million housing renovation project to be completed in September.
"Members of our church are not by any means affluent," said Wilson, "so we pool talent and combine resources and work hard."
Wilson, the church's pastor for 13 years, turned out to be the star of the evening. He led the choir in a stirring rendition of "We Are the World," led the audience in laughter and prayer, and received two awards -- a plaque from his church and a city resolution of praise from council member H.R. Crawford.
"Turn to the person on your right and tell them it's mighty good to be sitting beside you tonight," said Wison. "Now turn to the person on your left . . ."
Wilson quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Most of us are thermometers who simply register society. Few of us thermometers are thermostats who register and regulate the temperature of society."
He then introduced Mayor Marion Barry as "Mayor 'Black Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel' Barry."
"I think I'll just say the benediction and go home," replied Barry.
Barry, who received a certificate of appreciation for community service, praised the church for being "a lighthouse to those that need help and those that need hope."
"A significant number of D.C. government employes go to Union Temple Church," continued Barry. "And when they come to work on Monday they do better because they know what it is to help people."
In addition to Barry, the church also awarded certificates of appreciation to John Touchstone, Samuel LaBeach, Madeline Petty, Samuel Jordan, H.R. Crawford, Joseph Yeldell, Arthur Thomas, Romaine Thomas and Joyce Leland. Assisting with the ceremonies were emcee Catherine Hughes, WOL-AM radio general manager, and WYCB-AM radio announcer John Raye.