Low moans and then clear tones range in a string of spirituals. The melodies crescendoed as the emotion had been reached, a woman leaped up from her folding chair, threw back her head and shouted joyously; "Yessssssss, Jee-zuss!!
So go the services in the tiny white painted brick building with the chain link fence set in the industrial-zoned flatland near the river in downtown Alexandria.
Unlike the restrained air of its sister churches in the area, the black Community United Presbyterian Church is emotional.
"'Decency and order,'" is what John Calvin called it," said Joan SalmonCampbell, who guest preaches at area Presbyteran churches, "The black Presbyterian churches here tend to be more straight-laced that emotional"
Not only does Community church have a worship style different from the other churches in the area, but it also is the only black tradition Presbyterian church in Virginia north of greater Richmond. Virginia is the birthplace of black Presbytery, the 50 year-old congregation is affiliated fyreyee tS ouehr nunViodi with the Presbytery of SOuthern Virgina (Richmond) to which its organizing pastor, the Rev. C. B. Strong, who retired in 1975, belonged.
"It's the darndest situation; it just knicks me out," said the Rev. Sidney Davis, Communitys' pastor.
Davis has been using the unique combination of geographical location and access to two presbyterys to his congregation's advantage. He gets advice and support from both Washington and Richmond.
A congregation with a 1978 offering goal of $5,000 (the Sunday school collection last week came to $13) could not hope to support a fulltime minister in a system where congregations affiliate with denominational bodies mainly for fellowship, such as the Bapists.
"We could not survive if we weren't hooked in to the Presbyterian system," said Davis who supports his wife and three children on a salary provided by the Presbytery. In a non-hierarchichal system he would work at a fulltime secular job and be a part-time pastor.
When Davis came last July the group had dwindled to 12, the result of a breakup following Strong's retirement. The grup has now grown to about 45. Davis, 27, and leading his first congregation, knows the Presbytery will not support the group indefinitely. It must become self-sustaining, probably within five years.
He is resourceful - the new purple and white choir robes were obtained free from a Presbyterian group in Oregon - still learning "how to take advantage of the system."
That is how he discovered his group was unique to Northern Virginia, while looking fro resources to build the church. "I started calling other Presbyterian ministers in Virginia (for advice) and they were very friendly to me," he said. "But I have to work in the black community. This means I have to work with Baptist ministers. I can relate to them better."
He called the Washington Presbytery to inquire about other black Presbyterian ministers in the area. Irene Hardman, associate for church development and support, told him there were a handful of black churches in the area - but all in the District and Maryland, and all much larger than his.
A quarter of the group is near retirement age or over. Davis understands that the young people who are traditionally difficult for churches to hold on to, will be the small church's future.So he recruited unusually young deacons: Deborah Harris, 20; Clifford Harris III, 16, and Vernon Payne, 17. They all serve on boards with parents or relatives.
A Baptist on his mother's side, Davis chose a Baptist seminary and a Presbyterian ordination, combining both traditions. His religious feeling seems to have merged well with the congregation."I am emotional. I just can't hold it back. Some people think it's very unPresbyterian. But it's not, necessarily. in the golden triangle of North Carolina where I come from, the Presbyterians sing and shout," he said.
It is more than a coincidence that most of the congregation moved to Alexandria from that same area of North Carolina years ago and brought that tradition with them.
"That's the main reason why I wanted to come to this church," said Davis's wife, Marilyn.
"Black Presbyterians are almost identical in style to white Presbyterians, and black Baptists are usually more emotional than black Presbyterians," said the Rev. Harold E. King, who heads a church in Hillcrest Heights that is affiliated with both the Presbytery and a Bapist body. It is called the Cornerstone Community Church.
"We had a joint service with that (Alexandria) group a few years ago and they made us look (reserved) like Roman Catholics," he said.
"I'm going to give (Davis) a call and offer my help," said King when told of Community's situation. "Those big churches downtown can't help him. Everything they do has to be translated to reach my (more sympathetic) people."