By Ryan Ngala
[Harlem, New York] It was a beautiful day at First A.M.E Church – Bethel. It was the morning for the back to school service, the twelfth year of the event that brings together young children and their parents around the first school day in the month of September and provides each child with a new fully-loaded backpack.
Many parents, along with their children, had gotten up early in the morning to stand in line outside the church for the back-to-school celebration. While they were waiting, many First Bethel staff members had brought out program registration cards and pens for the parents so that they could register their children and write the grade level and other information on the forms. Meanwhile the clock was still ticking and the line still moving; it was almost time to start the service and all parents and their children were about to enter the sanctuary.
As they got inside the church, many people filled in the rows of each pew in the sanctuary. When the service began, first up was the First Bethel Praise Ensemble singing “And We Are Glad” by Joe Pace. This song lifted everyone to their feet; all members of the congregation were moving their bodies as they sang worship songs to the Lord. Next there was an opening prayer and welcoming words by Toni Santos and LeShawn Bridgewater, respectively; Alex and Nia Moore read scriptures from Romans, chapter 8, verses 16-18:
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; 17 and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed toward us.”
And from Psalm, chapter 55, verses 22-23:
“Cast your burden on Yahweh, and he will sustain you.
He will never allow the righteous to be moved.
23 But you, God, will bring them down into the pit of destruction.
Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days,
but I will trust in you.”
The choir then sang another song and there was also a praise-through-dance performance by Omar Ingram. After the performance, Pastor Henry A. Belin III delivered the inspirational message to the many students starting back to school in a brand new year. Pastor Belin’s words gave the youth strength to make it possible for them to work hard, study hard, make new friends, make good grades, and pray to God for the ability to learn and succeed in life. Next, the congregation and the Ensemble sang “Hallelujah”, everyone started to rejoice and enjoy a good time. In his closing remarks and benediction, Pastor Belin urged the church to work to end violence in Harlem and take back their neighborhood. Following the service, it was then time now to distribute backpacks to all age groups; Pre-Kindergarten - 1st grade, 2nd - 5th grade, 6th - 8th grade and 9th - 12th grade. Students in each row went up and got a backpack and then exited from the church.
Finally the praise party began. Refreshments were served including hamburgers, hot dogs, corn and watermelon; the DJ was playing music so that everyone could listen to the sounds and dance to the rhythms. There were awesome rides for the kids to play on, and of course there were icies, cotton candy, and popcorn. The youth also turned on the sprinklers at the fire hydrants. Some of them rode on a trackless train. Clearly, everyone had a really fun time.