Fenimore church holds annual Christmas Candlelight Cantata

Mass choir sings “Christ is Born, Nowell.”
Photo by Nelson A. King

With the theme “Sing We Noel,” the 130-year-old Fenimore Street United Methodist Church in East Flatbush, Brooklyn on Sunday evening celebrated the Christmas season with its annual candlelight cantata.

The near two-hour-long event featured lusty singing by soloists and the church’s Mass, Combined Praise Team and Junior choirs, and the congregation; liturgical dances, scripture readings and narration encompassing the birth of Jesus Christ.

The mass choir sang “Christ is Born, Nowell”; “My Soul Rejoices,” with Registered Nurse Cynthia Grant, who was born in Aruba to Vincentian parents, as soloist; “Waiting;” “The Coming of the Lord;” and “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Before and after the lighting of the candles, Trinidadian Patricia Senhouse, a member of the Mass Choir, sang “O, Holy Night.”

The Junior Choir sang “Little Drummer Boy.”

The Combined Praise Team, which also comprised members of the Men’s Chorale, electrified the congregation with “Away in a Manger”, “Go Tell It on a Mountain” and “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.”

But it was the church’s liturgical dancers who set the stage, near the beginning of the cantata, dancing to “Lamb of God.”

They returned mid-way in the celebration, dancing to “Noel.”

Linda Brown, an African-American member of the Mass Choir, provided narration after the reading of the scriptures by Steve Brandon and Chidindu Nwosu; and Lynn Malloy, another Africa-American, who served as liturgist, led the congregation with the refrain after the “Call to Worship.”

The congregation also participated in singing “O, Come All Ye Faithful”; “Silent Night, Holy Night”; and “Joy to the World.”

“We have come here to see another year,” said Malloy in her opening remarks. “God is good, and all the time God is good; and in everything and all things, we will give Him thanks and worship.”

After the lighting of the candles, she opined: “It’s not the Christmas tree and the gifts, it’s the birth of Jesus Christ.”

Barbara Moody, the Belizean-born director of the church’s Chancel Choir, who directed the Mass Choir, agreed.

“I, too, feel the feeling of Sis. Lyn (Malloy),” she said in giving thanks to all who made the event possible, particularly lauding Barbadian-born Sophia Eversley, who organized the program.

“We sang, and we danced, and it’s all to His glory,” Moody added. “I want to wish you a Happy Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

“And, as you go around the table (on Christmas Day), let’s say a prayer to all loved ones, those in the hospital, those less fortunate,” she continued.

In the absence of the church’s long-serving African American pastor, the Rev. Dr. Maxine Nixon, Barbara Castleberry, an African American lay servant at the church, urged the congregation to “receive the light and let it glory in your heart.

“May your spirits be filled with light and hope,” she said.

Fenimore Street United Methodist Church is dubbed a mini United Nations, with members from most Caribbean islands, Central and South America, and the United States. Vincentians and Jamaicans, however, predominate.

In October, the church celebrated its 130th anniversary with a mass Worship Service.

According to the church’s history, read at the service by member Ezinne Nwosu, on Aug. 3, 1889, the Fenimore Street United Methodist Episcopal Church of Flatbush was “organized out of the first Methodist Episcopal Church, Lenox Road and Flatbush Avenues, and was incorporated on Aug. 20, 1889.”

The church was formally admitted to the New York East Conference in April 1890 and dedicated in May 1890. The first pastor was the Rev. James L. Hall, (1890 – 1894).

During the Rev. I. Hemmingways’ ministry (1951 – 1960), the membership became more integrated with many black families.

In 1968, the Rev. William J. Smartt began his pastorate as the church’s first black minister.

From 1972-74, Fenimore Street United Methodist Church “was faced with the challenge of keeping its doors open when they were given an option to merge with St. Mark’s United Methodist Church,” according to historical notes.

“With strong determination and resolve Fenimore was victorious in keeping the church in the community,” it said, adding that, during the pastorate of the Rev. Lester Baker (1974 – 1980), extensive renovations were done.

In 1978, the church building was re-dedicated and a computerized Allen Organ was purchased and dedicated to the late Dr. Donald Wright.

Under the guidance of the Rev. Neville Buchanan (1980 – 1993), “significant accomplishments were made, including the liquidation of our mortgage with a ceremonial ‘burning,’” said the church about its history.

It said the late Guyanese-born pastor, the Rev. Dr. Ivan J. Roberts (1994 – 2002), “brought more growth, physically to the church building and spiritually to the congregation.”

Rev. Roberts “guided the first ‘Rally of the Nations’, and the proceeds were used to purchase our church van and to air condition the sanctuary and the Fellowship Hall,” the statement said.

It also said that, under Rev. Roberts’ leadership, the church purchased a six-family unit at the next door 201 Hawthorne St.

The church, first female pastor, Dr. Nixon, (2002 – present), “initiated many new ministries and Disciple Bible Study,” according the church’s history.

It said a second successful “Rally of the Nations” took place during Rev. Nixon’s ministry, with the proceeds earmarked for renovation of the Fellowship Hall and the kitchen.

“The church currently enjoys four choirs, a vibrant dance ministry and a soup kitchen that reaches out to the community,” the statement said. “To keep our congregation grounded in the word through our weekly services, a tape ministry was introduced. We burnt our mortgage for the six-family unit in September 2015.”

Retired Registered Nurse Marlene Ferguson, the Trinidadian-born chairperson of the Anniversary Committee, gave a “heartfelt thank you” to all worshippers “on this our 130th anniversary, remembering this old landmark Fenimore Street United Methodist Church.”

“As we prepared the program, we found it impossible not to reflect on our trailblazers who labored intensely on this old landmark,” she said almost at celebration’s end. “Please let us salute them with a moment of silence.

“It is our hope that, as you leave this celebration, the spirit of our trailblazers would enter your mind, soul and heart, and stir up the gift in you to go forth remembering this old landmark, as they did,” Ferguson added.

Liturgical dancers at Candlelight Cantata.
Photo by Nelson A. King

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