An icon of the Christian Pentecost, in the Greek Orthodox aesthetic tradition but prepared for a Western Christian audience using the Roman alphabet. This is the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world.
|Observed by||Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans and other Christians.|
|Significance||Celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus|
|Celebrations||Religious (church) services, Festive meals, Processions, Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, Folk customs, Dancing, Spring & woodland rites, Festive clothing.|
|Observances||Holy Communion, Litany|
June 10 (Western)June 10 (Eastern)
May 26 (Western)June 2 (Eastern)
May 17 (Western)June 21 (Eastern)
|Related to||Shavuot, historically and symbolically; Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday which lead up to Easter; and Ascension, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi which follow it.|
Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή [ἡμέρα], Pentēkostē [hēmera], "the fiftieth [day]") is the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. This feast is still celebrated in Judaism as Shavuot. Later, in the Christian liturgical year, it became a feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ (120 in all), as described in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1–31. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described by some Christians today as the "Birthday of the Church".
In the Eastern church, Pentecost can also refer to the whole fifty (50) days between Easter and Pentecost, hence the book containing the liturgical texts for Paschaltide is called the Pentecostarion. The feast is also called White Sunday, or Whitsunday, especially in England, where the following Monday was traditionally a public holiday. Pentecost is celebrated fifty days (i.e. 49 days with the first day counted, seven weeks) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. Pentecost falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday (which falls 40 days after Easter).
The Pentecostal movement of Christianity derives its name from the New Testament event.
- 1 Old Testament
- 2 New Testament
- 3 Date
- 4 Liturgical celebration
- 5 Classical compositions for Pentecost
- 6 Customs and traditions
- 7 Public holiday
- 8 Literary allusions
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Pentecost is the old Greek and Latin name for the Jewish harvest festival, or Festival of Weeks (Hebrew חג השבועות Hag haShavuot or Shevuot, literally "Festival of Weeks"), which can be found in the Hebrew Bible. Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks (Hebrew: חג השבועות, chag ha-Shavuot, Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10 ); Festival of Reaping (Hebrew: חג הקציר, chag ha-Katsir, Exodus 23:16 ), and Day of the First Fruits (Hebrew יום הביכורים, Yom ha-Bikkurim, Numbers 28:26 ).
Extra-Biblical and Post-Biblical Jewish Texts
The Talmud refers to Shavuot as Atzeret (Hebrew: עצרת, literally, "refraining" or "holding back"), referring to the prohibition against work on this holiday and to the conclusion of the holiday and season of Passover. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Hellenistic Jews gave it the name Pentecost.(πεντηκοστή, "fiftieth day").
According to Jewish tradition, Pentecost commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai fifty days after the Exodus. The Talmud derives this from a calculation based on Biblical Texts.
There is a Jewish tradition that David was born and died on Pentecost. This may be why, in Peter's speech found in Acts 2, he explains the current happenings using David's tomb and some of his quotes (Acts 2:29ff).
The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. Present were about one hundred and twenty followers of Christ (Acts 1:15), including the Twelve Apostles (i.e. the Eleven faithful disciples and Matthias who was Judas' replacement) (Acts 1:13, 26), his mother Mary, various other women disciples and his brothers (Acts 1:14).
Their reception of Baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room is recounted in Acts 2:1–6:
|“||And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.||”|
While those on whom the Spirit had descended were speaking in many languages, the Apostle Peter stood up with the eleven and proclaimed to the crowd that this event was the fulfillment of the prophecy ("I will pour out my spirit"). In Acts 2:17, it reads: "'And in the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams." He also mentions (2:15) that it was the third hour of the day (about 9:00 AM). Acts 2:41 then reports: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
Peter stated that this event was the beginning of a continual outpouring that would be available to all believers from that point on, Jews and Gentiles alike.
Location of the first Pentecost
Traditional interpretation holds that the Descent of the Holy Spirit took place in the Upper Room, or Cenacle, while celebrating the day of Pentecost (Shavuot). The Upper Room was first mentioned in Luke 22:12-13 ( "And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover."). This Upper Room was to be the location of the Last Supper and the institution of Holy Communion. The next mention of an Upper Room is in Acts 1:13-14, the continuation of the Luke narrative, authored by the same biblical writer.
Here the disciples and women wait and they gave themselves up to constant prayer: "And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren."
Then, in Acts 2:1–2, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.", "They" refers to the aforementioned disciples, and it includes the women. The "place" referring to the same Upper Room where these persons had "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication".
Alternative interpretations suggest that "the house" mentioned was in fact the House of God, Herod's Temple. There were Judeans from all over the world in the Temple proper. These people saw and heard the people whom received the gift of spiritual birth of holy spirit. The location the Upper Room did not allow women. Therefore, The Temple proper among all the people present is the location of the out pouring of holy spirit. Acts Chapter 2.
In Christian tradition Pentecost is part of the Moveable Cycle of the ecclesiastical year. According to Christian tradition, Pentecost is always seven weeks after Easter Sunday; that is to say, 50 days after Easter (inclusive of Easter Day). In other words, it falls on the eighth Sunday, counting Easter Day. The date of Easter may be calculated using a procedure known as Computus.
Since the date of Easter is calculated differently in the East and West (see Easter controversy), in most years the two traditions celebrate Pentecost on different days (though in some years the celebrations will coincide, as in 2010, 2011, and 2014). In the West, the earliest possible date is May 10 (as in 1818 and 2285), and the latest possible date June 13 (as in 1943 and 2038). In the East, this range of possible dates presently corresponds from May 23 to June 26 on the Gregorian calendar.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Pentecost is one of the Orthodox Great Feasts and is considered to be the highest ranking Great Feast of the Lord, second in rank only to Easter/Resurrection Sunday/Passover. The service is celebrated with an All-night Vigil on the eve of the feast day, and the Divine Liturgy on the day of the feast itself. Orthodox churchess are often decorated with greenery and flowers on this feast day, and the celebration is intentionally similar to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Mosaic Law.
The feast itself lasts three days. The first day is known as "Trinity Sunday"; the second day is known as "Spirit Monday" (or "Monday of the Holy Spirit"); and the third day, Tuesday, is called the "Third Day of the Trinity." The Afterfeast of Pentecost lasts for one week, during which fasting is not permitted, even on Wednesday and Friday. In the Orthodox Tradition, the liturgical color used at Pentecost is green, and the clergy and faithful carry flowers and green branches in their hands during the services.
An extraordinary service called the Kneeling Prayer, is observed on the night of Pentecost. This is a Vespers service to which are added three sets of long poetical prayers, the composition of Saint Basil the Great, during which everyone makes a full prostration, touching their foreheads to the floor (prostrations in church having been forbidden from the day of Pascha (Easter) up to this point). Uniquely, these prayers include a petition for all of those in hell, that they may be granted relief and even ultimate release from their confinement, if God deems this possible.
All of the remaining days of the ecclesiastical year, until the preparation for the next Great Lent are named for the day after Pentecost on which they occur (for example, the 13th Tuesday After Pentecost).
The Second Monday after Pentecost is the beginning of the Apostles' Fast (which continues until the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29). Theologically, Orthodox do not consider Pentecost to be the "birthday" of the Church; they see the Church as having existed before the creation of the world (cf. The Shepherd of Hermas)
The Orthodox icon of the feast depicts the Twelve Apostles seated in a semicircle (sometimes the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) is shown sitting in the center of them). At the top of the icon, the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, is descending upon them. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world. Although Kosmos is crowned with earthly glory he sits in the darkness caused by the ignorance of God. He is holding a towel on which have been placed 12 scrolls, representing the teaching of the Twelve Apostles.
In the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pentecost is one of the seven Major "Lord's Feasts". It is celebrated at the time of ninth hour (3:00pm) on the Sunday of Pentecost by a special three-segment prayer known as the "Office of Genuflection (Kneeling Prayer)". This feast is followed with the "Apostles Fast" which has a fixed end date on the fifth of the Coptic month of Epip [which currently falls on July 12, which is equivalent to June 29, due to the current 13-day Julian-Gregorian calendar offset]. The fifth of Epip is the commemoration of the Martyrdom of St. Peter and Paul.
The liturgical celebrations of Pentecost in Western churches are as rich and varied as those in the East. The main sign of Pentecost in the West is the color red. It symbolizes joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Priests or ministers, and choirs wear red vestments, and in modern times, the custom has extended to the lay people of the congregation wearing red clothing in celebration as well. Red banners are often hung from walls or ceilings to symbolize the blowing of the "mighty wind" and the free movement of the Spirit.
The celebrations may depict symbols of the Holy Spirit, such as the dove or flames, symbols of the church such as Noah's Ark and the Pomegranate, or especially within Protestant churches of Reformed and Evangelical traditions, words rather than images naming for example, the gifts and Fruits of the Spirit. Red flowers at the altar/preaching area, and red flowering plants such as geraniums around the church are also typical decorations for Pentecost masses/services. These symbolize the renewal of life, the coming of the warmth of summer, and the growth of the church at and from the first Pentecost.
These flowers often play an important role in the ancestral rites, and other rites, of the particular congregation. For example, in both Protestant and Catholic churches, the plants brought in to decorate for the holiday may be each "sponsored" by individuals in memory of a particular loved one, or in honor of a living person on a significant occasion, such as their Confirmation day.
In the German speaking lands, in Central Europe, and wherever the people of these nations have wandered, green branches are also traditionally used to decorate churches for Pentecost. Birch is the tree most typically associated with this practice in Europe, but other species are employed in different climates.
The singing of Pentecost hymns is also central to the celebration in the Western tradition. Hymns such as Martin Luther's "Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" (Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord), Charles Wesley's "Spirit of Faith Come Down" and "Come Holy Ghost Our Hearts Inspire" or Hildegard von Bingen's "O Holy Spirit Root of Life" are popular. Some traditional hymns of Pentecost make reference not only to themes relating to the Holy Spirit or the church, but to folk customs connected to the holiday as well, such as the decorating with green branches.
Consider "Oh that I had a Thousand Voices" ("O daß ich tausend Zungen hätte") by German, Johann Mentzer Verse 2: "Ye forest leaves so green and tender, that dance for joy in summer air…" or "O Day Full of Grace" ("Den signede Dag") by Dane, N. F. S. Grundtvig verse 3: "Yea were every tree endowed with speech and every leaflet singing…". In the Roman Catholic Church, Veni Sancte Spiritus is the sequence hymn for the Day of Pentecost. This has been translated into many languages and is sung in many denominations today. See also Veni Creator Spiritus.
Trumpeters or brass ensembles are often specially contracted to accompany singing and provide special music at Pentecost services, recalling the Sound of the mighty wind. While this practice is common among a wide spectrum of Western denominations (Eastern Churches do not employ instrumental accompaniment in their worship) it is particularly typical, and distinctive to the heritage of the Moravian Church.
Another custom is reading the appointed Scripture lessons in multiple foreign languages recounting the speaking in tongues recorded in Acts 2:4-12.
In the Middle Ages, cathedrals and great churches throughout Western Europe were fitted with a peculiar architectural feature known as a Holy Ghost hole; a small circular opening in the roof that symbolized the entrance of Holy Spirit into the midst of the assembled worshippers. At Pentecost, these Holy Ghost holes would be decorated with flowers, and sometimes a dove figure lowered through into the church while the story of the Pentecost was read. Holy Ghost holes can still be seen today in European churches such as Canterbury Cathedral.
Similarly, a large two dimensional dove figure would be, and in some places still are, cut out of wood, painted and decorated with flowers, to be lowered over the people, particularly during the singing of the sequence hymn, or Veni Creator Spiritus. In other places, particularly Sicily and the Italian peninsula, rose petals were and are thrown from the galleries over the congregation calling to mind the tongues of fire. In modern times, this practice has been revived, and interestingly adapted as well, to include the strewing of origami doves from above, or suspending them – sometimes by the hundreds – from the ceiling.
In some cases, red fans, or red handkerchiefs are distributed to the assembled worshippers to be waved during the procession, etc. Other congregations have incorporated the use of red balloons, signifying the "Church's Birthday" into their festivities. These may be carried by worshippers, used to decorate the sanctuary, or released all at once.
Fasting, baptisms, and confirmations
For some Protestants, the nine days between Ascension Day, and Pentecost are set aside as a time of fasting, and world-wide prayer in honor of the disciples' time of prayer and unity awaiting the Holy Spirit. Similarly among Roman Catholics, special Pentecost Novenas are held. The Pentecost Novena is considered the first Novena, all other Novenas offered in preparation of various festivals and Saints days deriving their practice from those original nine days of prayer observed by the disciples of Christ.
While the Eve of Pentecost was traditionally a day of fasting for Catholics, today's canon law no longer requires it. Both Catholics and Protestants may hold spiritual retreats, prayer vigils and litanies in the days leading up to Pentecost. In some cases vigils on the Eve of Pentecost may last all night. Pentecost is also one of the occasions specially appointed for the Lutheran Litany to be sung.
From the early days of Western Christianity, Pentecost became one of the days set aside to celebrate Baptism. In Northern Europe Pentecost was preferred even over Easter for this rite, as the temperatures in late spring might be supposed to be more conducive to outdoor immersion as was then the practice. It is proposed that the term Whit Sunday derives from the custom of the newly baptized wearing white clothing, and from the white vestments worn by the clergy in English liturgical uses. The holiday was also one of the three days each year (along with Christmas and Easter) Roman Catholics were required to confess and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion in order to remain in good church standing.
Holy Communion is likewise often a feature of the Protestant observance of Pentecost as well. It is one of the relatively few Sundays some Reformed denominations may offer the communion meal, and is one of the days of the year specially appointed among Moravians for the celebration of their Love Feasts. Ordinations are celebrated across a wide array of Western denominations at Pentecost, or near to it. In some denominations, for example the Lutheran Church, even if an ordination or consecration of a deaconess is not celebrated on Pentecost, the liturgical color will invariably be red, and the theme of the service will be the Holy Spirit.
Above all, Pentecost is a day for the Confirmation celebrations of young people. Flowers, the wearing of white robes, or white dresses recalling Baptism, rites such as the laying on of hands, and vibrant singing play prominent roles on these joyous occasions, the blossoming of Spring forming an equal analogy with the blossoming of youth.
The typical image of Pentecost in the West is that of the Virgin Mary seated centrally and prominently among the disciples, with flames resting on the crowns of their heads. Occasionally parting clouds suggesting the action of the "mighty wind", rays of light, and/or the Dove, are also depicted. Of course, the Western iconographic style is less static and stylized than that of the East, and other very different representations have been produced, and in some cases have achieved great fame, such as the Pentecosts by Titian, Giotto and el Greco.
Paul already in the 1st century notes the importance of this festival to the early Christian communities. (See: Acts 20:16 & 1 Corinthians 16:8) Since the lifetime of some who may have been eyewitnesses, annual celebrations of the descent of the Holy Spirit have been observed. Before the Second Vatican Council Pentecost Monday as well was a Holy Day of Obligation during which the Catholic Church addressed the newly baptized and confirmed. Since that time however Pentecost Monday is no longer solemnized.
Nevertheless Pentecost remains an official church festival in many Protestant churches, such as the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and others. In the Byzantine Catholic Rite Pentecost Monday is no longer a Holy Day of Obligation, but rather a simple holy day. In the Roman Catholic Church, as at Easter, the liturgical rank of Monday and Tuesday of Pentecost week is a Double of the First Class and across many Western denominations, Pentecost is celebrated with an octave culminating on Trinity Sunday.
Marking the festival's importance, in several denominations, such as the Lutheran, Episcopal and United Methodist churches (and formerly in the Roman Catholic Church), all the Sundays from the holiday itself until the next Advent in late November or December are designated the 2nd, 3rd, Nth, Sunday after Pentecost, etc. Throughout the year, in Roman Catholic piety, the Pentecost is the third of the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, as well as being one of the Stations of the Resurrection, or Via Lucis.
In some Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, where there is less emphasis on the liturgical year, Pentecost may still be one of the greatest celebrations in the year, such as in Germany or Romania. In other cases, Pentecost may be ignored as a holy day in these churches. In many evangelical churches in the United States, the secular holiday, Mother's Day, may be more celebrated than the ancient and biblical feast of Pentecost. Some evangelicals and Pentecostals are observing the liturgical calendar and observe Pentecost as a day to teach the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Across denominational lines Pentecost has been an opportunity for Christians to honor the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and celebrate the birth of the church in an ecumenical context.
Classical compositions for Pentecost
The Lutheran church of the Baroque observed three days of Pentecost. Some composers wrote sacred cantatas to be performed in the church services of these days. Johann Sebastian Bach composed several cantatas for days of Pentecost, including Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172 in 1714 and Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68 in 1725. Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel wrote cantatas such as Werdet voll Geistes (Get full of spirit) in 1737. Mozart composed an antiphon Veni Sancte Spiritus in 1768.
Messe de la Pentecôte in 1949/50. In 1964 Fritz Werner wrote an oratorio for Pentecost Veni, sancte spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit) on the sequence Veni sancte spiritus, and Jani Christou wrote Tongues of Fire, a Pentecost oratorio. Richard Hillert wrote a Motet for the Day of Pentecost for choir, vibraphone, and prepared electronic tape in 1969. Violeta Dinescu composed Pfingstoratorium, an oratorio for Pentecost for five soloists, mixed chorus and small orchestra in 1993.
Customs and traditions
In Italy it was customary to scatter rose petals from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues; hence in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy Whitsunday is called Pasqua rosatum. The Italian name Pasqua rossa comes from the red colours of the vestments used on Whitsunday.
In the north west of England, church and chapel parades called Whit Walks take place at Whitsun (sometimes on Whit Friday, the Friday after Whitsun). Typically, the parades contain brass bands and choirs; girls attending are dressed in white. Traditionally, Whit Fairs (sometimes called Whitsun Ales) took place. Other customs such as morris dancing and cheese rolling are also associated with Whitsun.
In Finland there is a saying known virtually by everyone which translates as "if one has no sweetheart until Pentecost, he/she will not have it during the whole summer."
Since Pentecost itself is on a Sunday, it is automatically a public holiday in Christian countries.
Pentecost Monday is a public holiday in many European countries including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania (since 2008), (most parts of) Switzerland, Ukraine and also in the African nations Senegal, Benin and Togo.
In Sweden it was also a public holiday, but Pentecost Monday (Annandag Pingst) was replaced by Swedish National Day on June 6, by a government decision on December 15, 2004. In Italy and Malta, it is no longer a public holiday. It was a public holiday in Ireland until 1973, when it was replaced by Early Summer Holiday on the first Monday in June. In the United Kingdom the day is known as Whit Monday, and was a bank holiday until 1967 when it was replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday in May. In France, following reactions to the implementation of the Journée de solidarité envers les personnes âgées, Pentecost Monday has been reestablished as a holiday (but a working holiday) on May 3, 2005.
According to legend, King Arthur always gathered all his knights at the round table for a feast and a quest on Pentecost:
So ever the king had a custom that at the feast of Pentecost in especial, afore other feasts in the year, he would not go that day to meat until he had heard or seen of a great marvel. 
- Pfingsten, das liebliche Fest, war gekommen;
- es grünten und blühten Feld und Wald;
- auf Hügeln und Höhn, in Büschen und Hecken
- Übten ein fröhliches Lied die neuermunterten Vögel;
- Jede Wiese sprosste von Blumen in duftenden Gründen,
- Festlich heiter glänzte der Himmel und farbig die Erde.
"Pfingsten, das liebliche Fest", speaks of Pentecost as a time of greening and blooming in fields, woods, hills, mountains, bushes and hedges, of birds singing new songs, meadows sprouting fragrant flowers, and of festive sunshine gleaming from the skies and coloring the earth - iconic lines idealizing the Pentecost holidays in the German-speaking lands.
Further, Goethe records an old peasant proverb relating to Pentecost in his "Sankt-Rochus-Fest zu Bingen" – Ripe strawberries at Pentecost mean a good wine crop.
Alexandre Dumas, père mentions of Pentecost in Twenty Years After (French: Vingt ans après), the sequel to The Three Musketeers. A meal is planned for the holiday, to which La Ramée, second in command of the prison, is invited, and by which contrivance, the Duke is able to escape. He speaks sarcastically of the festival to his jailor, foreshadowing his escape : "Now, what has Pentecost to do with me? Do you fear, say, that the Holy Ghost may come down in the form of fiery tongues and open the gates of my prison?"
William Shakespeare mentions Pentecost in a line from Romeo and Juliet Act 1, Scene V. At the ball at his home, Capulet speaks in refuting an overestimate of the time elapsed since he last danced: "What, man? 'Tis not so much, 'tis not so much! 'Tis since the nuptial of Lucentio, Come Pentecost as quickly as it will, Some five-and-twenty years, and then we mask'd." Note here the allusion to the tradition of mumming, Morris dancing and wedding celebrations at Pentecost.
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- Pentecost on RE:Quest
- A collection of 22 prayers for Pentecost
- "Pentecost" article from the Catholic Encyclopedia
- "Pentecost" article from the Jewish Encyclopedia
- Feast of Pentecost Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
- Explanation of the Feast from the Handbook for Church Servers (Nastolnaya Kniga) by Sergei V. Bulgakov
-  The Main Event: The Church Takes Center Stage from  Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Georgia.