Youths offer praise, worship at historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Christian rapper Young Aaron (Aaron Williams)

ST. PETERSBURG — An event that started inside the sanctuary of historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church ended outside with youths and young adults giving spontaneous praise to God.

The Youth Explosion, an idea coordinated by Jenifer Burklin-Walker, started on the evening of Saturday, June 30 with master of ceremony Corey Givens, Jr. thanking everyone for coming and encouraging those in the pews to get involved with the service that featured youths and young adults from around Tampa Bay and as far away as Orlando.

Choirs from Bethel and St. Stephen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bradenton filled the choir loft.

When the sound system wouldn’t cooperate with rapper Young Aaron, the artist went back to his roots as a “PK” (preacher’s kid), pulled out some gospel lyrics and had the congregation supplement his music with hand claps. The 22-year-old from Designer’s Way Christian Church in Tampa then testified to a life that was anything but godly, and told a story of redemption that brought shouts of “Hallelujah” and “Amen.”

The liturgical dance ministry from Greater Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church brought soul-stirring reactions when they matched their movements to Kirk Franklin’s “Love Theory.”

The spoken word poetry of Bethel’s Mazaria Flowers and a solo by Zariya Brooks of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Orlando received enthusiastic praise from the worshippers. Throughout the service, prayers and words of inspiration were given to the youths and young adults to “remain strong” and “continuing serving the Lord.”

Rev. Kenny Irby, senior pastor at historic Bethel, reminded everyone that, “The doors of the church are always open,” as he offered a place at the alter to anyone in need. He also gave encouragement through the scripture, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith…”

The Moore’s Chapel mime troupe, made up St. Petersburg youths Kareem Alexander and Jordan Henderson, rounded out the evening by ministering to the congregation through the song “Gracefully Broken.”

Soon afterward, everyone filed downstairs for burgers, hot dogs, chips, sodas and other snacks in Williams-Harris Fellowship Hall.

Then as worshipers were leaving, a surprise awaited. Many were treated to a group of young people who “just started singing together,” as someone said, on the steps in front of the church. Shantasia Northern and Kareem Alexander were lifting their voices to “Because of Who You Are.”

Choir members from St. Stephen then decided they needed another go-round. Several youths and young adults gathered in the parking lot to laugh, talk and continue their fellowship in Christ.

The worship service was part of historic Bethel’s 125th Church Anniversary Celebration, which continues Aug. 10 with a Back-to-School Bash and Street Festival from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Vendor spaces are still available. Please contact the church office for more information at 727-822-2089.

Historic Bethel AME is located at 912 Third Ave. N in the heart of Methodist Town.

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