On February 10 and 11, Madison Church, a multisite Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids, Mich., performed an adaptation of James Weldon Johnson’s 1927 book God’s Trombones to coincide with its commemoration of Black History Month.
God’s Trombones is a collection of seven poems or sermons that outline the message of the gospel. Johnson, a NAACP activist, educator, lawyer, diplomat, and songwriter, based the poems and the title on his memories of the “old-time” Black preacher. He described the trombone as “the instrument possessing above all others the power to express the wide and varied range of emotions encompassed by the human voice—and with greater amplitude.”
According to codirector and church member Audrey Laninga, God’s Trombones was “a vehicle through which we could tell a sin, salvation, and redemption story clearly; one that could be spoken, danced, and sung.”
The production was a multicultural and intergenerational endeavor involving approximately 100 volunteers, including 35 singers in the gospel choir and 11 cast members. Along with Laninga, church member James Abney codirected the performance, which depicted five of the book’s seven poems. An estimated 700 church and community members attended.
For Shelli Fynewever, it was a family-wide effort. She and her husband acted in the first poem, “Creation,” as her daughter performed in a group dance; one son played piano in the band, and the other sang in the gospel choir. “It’s so beautiful that people of all ages can have their gifts honored and valued,” Fynewever said.
She was also honored to be part of a “multiracial group of people representing the image of God,” as she said. “It assists me in my passion to raise my kids to be agents of reconciliation in the world.”
LeMarr Jackson, Madison Church’s youth director, played the role of the Prodigal Son in the second poem performed. “The art of Black culture has not been pushed heavily throughout our history,” he said. Jackson noted how humbled he was to be part of a performance that portrayed the gospel with the richness of Black culture. “It’s been really inspirational and uplifting to be a part of that.”
Madison’s production of God’s Trombones was an outreach effort to spread the message of salvation and concluded with an invitation for audience members to accept Christ or re-dedicate their lives to him. “We really did this all for the Lord,” Laninga emphasized, “that folks would give their lives to him. To see that happening was very much God’s anointing on our work.”
Jackson echoed this by saying, “the angels throw a party in heaven whenever a person joins the family of Christ. I’m throwing a party down here for every soul that was saved.”