The 13th year of the annual His Hands Extended Freedom Celebration in the spaciousness of the church on Stuart Road is a long way from the confines of Pathway Bookstore on 25th Street where Living Word Church is located.
“We were there for the first three or four celebrations,” said Max Morris, founder of His Hands Extended Ministries.
From there, the gospel singing event moved to the Cleveland High School commons area for a short while before journeying to the gymnasium at Peerless Road Church. Along with the new location on Stuart Road, the musical venue changed from a variety of Southern Gospel groups to praise and worship songs performed by the First Baptist Church choir accompanied by the church orchestra, and the a cappella renderings of the Voices of Lee.
“The basic group is always Danny Murray and the Voices of Lee,” he said. “They have always been with us. This is the first time in eight years we’ve had a choir and I felt it was about time. Everyone did a great job.”
First Baptist Church Care Pastor Steve Morgan said the Fourth of July celebration was one of the reasons the church relocated to Stuart Road.
“We were a downtown church for some 153 years. It wasn’t that we just wanted to be another large church in our community, but God wanted us to become an integral part of our community and that’s for days just like today,” Morgan said.
Morgan held a simple, white, wooden cross for everyone in the audience to see, with the exception of him and others who have lost their eyesight.
“This represents a movement. It began as a ministry, but I would call it a movement now,” Morgan said.
The goal of Barbara and Joe Gilbert began as an effort to distribute 1,000 crosses across Bradley County. Ten times that number have been planted by truck drivers who have carried them to all parts of the nation.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland thanked God in prayer for the greatest nation in the world and because the United States of America was created by godly men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
“But there are those who are trying to take God out of the picture. There are those who would try to take prayer out of public meetings,” he prayed. “Give those in public office wisdom to not let that happen. This is the greatest country in the world that people want to come to and nobody really wants to leave … we can’t thank you enough for what happened on that July Fourth 236 years ago.”
Retired Navy Capt. Jerry McNabb offered the benediction. The former Navy chaplain thanked God for another year of blessings on the United States of America and setting it apart as a beacon for freedom.
“Throughout our history, our nation has always been a conduit for the gospel of Christ. Even though there are those who would deny our Christian roots and try every day to remove you from every phase of our children’s lives, we refuse to concede to these attacks on our relationship with you,” he said. “We celebrate our independence from the tyranny and oppression of the past. We refuse to accept the shackles of those who wish to bankrupt our coffers and remove you from our midst.
“Give us the wisdom and intestinal fortitude to stand up to those who ignore our Constitution and proclaim its demise,” he continued. “Help us as a people to realize America will never fall as long as we refuse to tolerate evil, immorality and dishonesty.”
McNabb described Americans as a people of character and integrity who believe in God, family and country, who will always have hope for a better tomorrow as long as America does not lose its identity.
“We are a diverse people of many cultures, many lands, many creeds, but allow us to never forget our commonality is that we are Americans, one nation under God.”
Also featured as part of the celebration was Mary Beth Wickes, who played the musical prelude. Melanie Willetts sang “Because He Lives.” Trumpeter Dennis Bauer offered “The Lord’s Prayer” to open the event. After Steve Orders and his 9-year-old son, Peyton, led the Pledge of Allegiance, Bauer played the National Anthem.
Tyler Brinson directed the First Baptist Church Choir and Jim Burton conducted the church orchestra.
Special presentations were made to the Voices of Lee, the “greatest ambassadors of any city” by Rowland, state Rep. Kevin Brooks, state Sen. Mike Bell, and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.