Saturday, 18 February, not a traditional day for going to church for Christians, was a day the world went to church. The funeral service of the pop singing icon, Whitney Houston, was watched by millions of people around the world, but like many services of its type, rather than being a sober dirge of misery and regret, it was an ‘Uplifting, pulsating, positive and remarkable thing to watch,’ according to Piers Morgan on CNN. Not known for being effusive in his praise Piers Morgan, commenting on the service at the end of it said it was the most remarkable church service he had ever seen anywhere.
His commentary and the comments of all the other people on Twitter and Facebook, made me realise, that unlike me, who had actually attended quite a few funeral services, just like that one (except for Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and the Winans singing of course) many people had never experienced what the charismatic evangelicals call a home going service.
It is rooted in the scriptures that urge us as Christians to express our faith even in grief: ‘Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.’
So the home going service is more like a celebration of life rather than mourning the death and this came across clearly at the service for Whitney Houston at New Hope Baptist Church, Newark, New Jersey. As Stevie Wonder said in his tribute song, ‘Lord we thank you for giving us Whitney.’
For me watching this service was like being in church, I saw all the nuances, processes and rituals that reminds me of the years I spent in a Black Majority church. The service was uplifting, positive and very musical. It was an affirmation of faith, which is exactly what is needed at a time of such turmoil. And like any self-respecting charismatic church service, it was 3 hours long! (Maybe this was why the BBC couldn’t show it in its entirety, although a few people I have spoken to suspect a less practical reason for the interruption!)
Rev. Marvin Winans, who conducted what they called the Eulogy, reminded us what was important according to the bible, and urged us to ‘Prioritise!’ He quoted from the beatitudes, in the tradition of charismatic black preachers, demanding Amens and remarking, ‘I don’t hear anybody talking to me!’ He reminded us what was most important to us as Christians, in life as well as death.
My favourite part of the service was Stevie Wonder’s musical tribute which was also, really a mini-sermon. When he sang, ‘Love’s In Need of Love Today,’ there was spontaneous clapping along to the song and at the end the choir joined in, spontaneously, it was beautiful, moving and uplifting and by the end of the song, the congregation was on its feet.
Whitney Houston’s funeral service brought to the world, the truth of the Gospel, which is the good news that regardless of your troubles in this life, if you believe in God through Jesus Christ, you have a better hope of eternity, which when all is said and done, is incomparable to anything in this life.
Goodbye Whitney and thanks for the memories: