With a Grammy-winning gospel singer and a CNN documentary crew on hand, the congregation was buzzing before the service today at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens.
In an interview between services, O’Brien said she and her producers chose the 7,000-member First Baptist congregation for the documentary after they went “church-shopping.”
“Pastor Soaries has a dynamic personality and he raises a lot of important questions,” O’Brien said. “The church is involved in many community issues and the members of the church have good stories.”
Among the church’s projects is an effort to help its members cope with the recession and become debt-free. Soaries has said debt may be a bigger problem than racism for many African-Americans today.
“Churched” will focus on a family with a large suburban home and a middle-class life that is facing foreclosure; a young man that the church is helping with his college applications; and a man who is ready to tell his fellow parishioners that he is HIV-positive.
Soaries today urged members to get in touch if they have stories for the documentary. “Call CNN and tell what it’s like not to have 11 Visa bills,” Soaries said.
Soaries’ sermon today emphasized old-fashioned virtues. He urged church members to “clothe yourself in Jesus” throughout the week to fight the growth of “an aggressive, radical form of atheism” promoted in music and the media.
“They are trying to make you feel silly for believing anything,” Soaries said.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said Florise Pierre of Branchburg, who came to the Somerset mega-church with her son and daughter, as she does every Sunday.
“Our reverend is trying to raise discussions of African-American issues,” Pierre explained. “They picked the right church and the right reverend for the documentary.”
CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien and her producers are devoting the entire third installment of their documentary series, “Black in America,” to the members of the Somerset church and their activist pastor, the Rev. DeForest B. Soaries Jr. The program, titled “Churched,” will explore the role churches play in contemporary black America by focusing on three families in the congregation. It will air on Oct. 14.
A crowd of 1,200 packed the sanctuary for the 9 a.m. service, along with another 1,000 who came for an 11 a.m. service. CeCe Winans, the acclaimed gospel and R&B singer, made the sanctuary ring with a rousing rendition of the hymn “The Blood Will Never Lose its Power.” She was accompanied by the church’s choir and band, who already had the crowd clapping and on its feet after performing a series of high-energy spirituals to open the service.
Soaries, Winans’ onetime music manager and an old friend, selected Winans from a list proposed by CNN.