When: 9 a.m. second Saturday of the month
Where: Voices of Faith, 996 Athens St, Gainesville
Balancing bony hands on the handle of his cane, Collis Wheeler sways before a group of crooning churchgoers. He’s one in a trio of elders leading several dozen in worship.
Majestic chords of an organ bellow, accompanying the harmonizing trio as they sing:
“Hallelujah ... the storm is passing over. The storm is passing over.”
Wheeler is 98 years old — born 1917 — and he has the look of a man who believes the words of the song. He’s attended the Interdenominational Black Ministers Association annual citywide revival longer than he (or others) can remember. And, on this evening of Wednesday, Jan. 6 at St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville, Wheeler said he feels “blessed to be here.”
Each year during the first week of January, the IBMA sponsors the community revival “in order to set the spiritual tone and pace for the new year,” said Minister Michelle Lowe Mintz. She spoke Wednesday from a pulpit in the church’s expansive sanctuary.
“We encourage you and beseech you,” Mintz said. “Don’t leave here tonight or this week without getting a word from the Lord. God is speaking to you ... don’t leave until you get your blessing.”
As a member of the IBMA, Mintz belongs to a local group of ministers that meet once a month to discuss service projects for the community. The religious organization holds four activities a year, including the revival, an Easter sunrise service, a family picnic for ministers and families and a Christmas dinner.
The group has also awarded two yearly $1,000 scholarships to minority students since 2003.
More than anything, IBMA aims to “help out wherever we can lend a hand or voice in the community,” said the Rev. Matthew Little.
Little, who is also president of the more than 70-year-old organization, said IBMA began with four founding churches “coming together for the purpose of being the spiritual eyes and ears of the community.”
The four founding churches, he said, are St. John Baptist, First Baptist, Antioch Baptist and St. Paul United Methodist Church. Since then, about a dozen other churches have become affiliated with the organization. He said all ministers are welcome to join the group, which meets at 9 a.m. the second Saturday of every month at Voices of Faith on Athens Street in Gainesville.
Little preached all week during the community revival at St. John Baptist.
Ann Neal was there Wednesday and several other days this week. She’s been coming to this event for years. She enjoys it because it’s for the entire community.
“And it gets the year off to a good start,” she said. “We need to stick together. We serve one God, and we should be united as one.”
With eyes closed and a beatific smile, Neal nodded her head to the music Wednesday night. The trio sang as Wheeler tapped his skinned-up, wooden cane in time with the stately trilling of the church organ, singing:
“The storm is passing over ... hallelujah.”