By Daniel Buckwalter

Hope, love, and faith. We can use these three words, especially in the heated, polarized world we live in.

All three words were in joyful abundance on June 8 at Beall Concert Hall when the University of Oregon Gospel Ensemble — the Gospel Choir, Gospel Ensemble and Gospel Singers — delivered a powerful and rollicking performance of song and dance before an enthusiastic audience.

Andiel Brown, Instructor of Gospel Choirs and Ensembles at the University of Oregon

Under the vibrant direction of Andiel Brown (preacher and choir master, if you will), all three groups reached the soulful depths of daily struggle and the heavenly high of worship.

It was church on a Saturday evening. Beall Hall was the sanctuary and the audience was the responsive congregation — singing, dancing and clapping along. It was praiseworthy, and, frankly, it was enough to restore some hope, love and faith in me.

This being as close to a church service as I can think of for a concert, there had to be a confessional moment, a time of reckoning for past sins.

It came from the Gospel Ensemble. Specifically, it came from soloist Christina Harley when she led the ensemble in Pray For The U.S.A., a stirring ballad by Twinkie Clark that was first performed by the gospel group The Clark Sisters in 1986.

The lyrics are powerful, and they resonate today.

Suicide rates going up
Homicide cases piling up
Rape and killing, even with innocent little children
To those that can really see
You know that this shouldn’t be
Because what America needs is more love and peace
She can be free if she goes back down to her knees

Oh, pray for the U.S.A.

Brown introduced the piece, and Harley, standing with the ensemble, began to cry. Brown had to extend a hand to ease her to the microphone up front. Harley began to sing softly, tentatively, perhaps trying to collect herself.

As the piece moved on, Harley gained traction, belting out the sins of our society, one by one, with gospel-like precision. Almost four decades after this song was composed, it needs to be heard over and over. After she was done, Harley cried some more and went back to the ensemble. She received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Yet there was praise, too. Happily, there is always praise in gospel music. Here I Am to Worship, Jesus Saves, Saved By Grace  and Thank You were just a few of the 13 selections in the program.

And, again, it was enough to restore some hope, love and faith.