Most church choirs take time to catch their breath after the busy Advent and Christmas seasons. That is when Destiny Worship Center’s praise team is just getting warmed up.
That’s because Destiny, which holds services at the Bangor Masonic Hall on Union Street, is the most racially diverse congregation in the area. Its specialty is traditional gospel music and modern praise songs which focus on the solos and harmonies associated with black churches.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is when Destiny’s singers are most in demand. Music director Raenicha Johnson of Bangor chooses a mix of traditional and newer music for performances but almost always includes “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” nicknamed the “National Black Anthem.”
The song was first performed in 1900, at a segregated school in Jacksonville, Florida, by a group of 500 children celebrating the anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, according to National Public Radio. Nineteen years later, it was adopted as the song of the NAACP.
About half the members of Destiny’s praise team learned the song as children in black churches outside Maine.
Brian Hurst of Bangor founded the church in 2009 to serve a racially and ethnically diverse population through music and ministry. Hurst, whose father is a minister, grew up in Bangor and felt a strong connection to gospel music.
Johnson joined Destiny in its first year. She began singing in a church choir at age 3. Being part of a congregation where she felt comfortable and able to contribute musically was important to her. She visited other churches but simply did not connect with their worship styles the way she did at Destiny, which is nondenominational.
“This reminds me of home,” she told the Bangor Daily News in 2010.
In 2018, Destiny considered merging with Columbia Street Baptist Church, affiliated with the American Baptist Church, but congregants voted to remain independent. Between 70 and 80 people attend services each Sunday.
Unlike most Bangor-area church choirs, Destiny’s singers don’t use hymnals or sheet music.
“We learn it all by ear and memorize the composition,” Hurst said Friday. “We improvise a lot, but we call it Destinizing.”
At a rehearsal Friday, Priscilla Monccrieffe of Bangor could not hold still. She swayed and clapped her hands to the music.
“I believe that praise music is an integral part of people entering into worship and sets the atmosphere for the word of God to be spoken,” said Moncrieffe, who has been attending Destiny since its second service. “I just can never sit still when we sing.”
Carol-ann Duncan-Dean of Corinth, a Bangor therapist, invited the choir to rehearse in her office Friday night after a snowstorm caused Thursday night’s practice to be canceled. She thinks this year it is especially important to celebrate King’s message.
“This year everyone’s so divided,” she said.
The praise team will sing at 4 p.m. Sunday for “A Service of Light” at St. John’s Episocpal Church, 234 French St. in Bangor, with choirs from Congregation Beth El, the Salvation Army, All Souls Congregational Church and other Protestant churches in Greater Bangor.
Destiny’s choir also will sing at 8:30 a.m. at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in the Wells Conference Center at the University of Maine in Orono.