On Sunday morning, parishioners crowded around all four entrances of Oak Bluffs’ Union Chapel in anticipation of a sermon from guest minister, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, senior pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York city. Reverend Butts is also the president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.

Reverend Butts is a native New Yorker who has dedicated much of his career to the people of Harlem, the neighborhood in which the Abyssinian Baptist Church sits. Through the church, Reverend Butts established the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a nonprofit that focuses on providing social services and initiating development, including building the first new high school in Harlem in over 50 years.

On Sunday, he spoke about the meaning of integrity, weaving both levity and solemnity into his message.

Rev. Calvin Butts spoke to the importance of integrity during Sunday's sermon at Union Chapel. — Jeanna Shepard

After an introduction by Union Chapel Trustee Lois Jean White, Reverend Butts led the congregation in a few prayers and hymns and then asked attendees to raise their hands if it was their first time worshipping at the Union Chapel. In the sea of colorful dresses and jackets, linen suits and decorative hats, over a quarter of the crowd raised their hands. He then asked people to bow their heads and pray for people or situations that needed help.

“Such as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. “That’s a situation that desperately needs prayer.” He encouraged people to say thank you, “a short, two-word prayer,” and to remain grateful to live in the United States.

“We’ve had a great few years up until now,” he said, but encouraged the congregation to find the strength to continue the struggle against forces that might discourage them. And the well from which this strength could be tapped, Reverend Butts said, was personal integrity, developed by building a life around faith.

Reverend Butts spoke passionately to the crowd, which was almost entirely composed of people of color. “For people of African descent, this is especially important,” he said. “The world tells you, you’ll never amount to nothing. You can’t do this job, they say. We found someone who is a little better than you. They tell you your natural beauty isn’t good enough. They make you doubt yourself.”

Responses came from all directions, as his booming voice emanated throughout the space. He described how people needed to remember the words of the scripture rather than the words of those who would demoralize them. He told stories from the bible and brought the metaphors back to present day.

Union Chapel was filled to the rafters, with people standing outside too. — Jeanna Shepard

“The devil is sitting in a high place,” he said, pausing as the crowd applauded. “People are trying to bring back slavery. In the midst of that, there’s a God who knows we’re better than this.”

“When you leave here, I want the sun to hit your face,” he added. People on the street may make comments, he said, but he warned against believing them. Integrity would carry the faithful forward. “When you leave here, I want you to strut down Circuit avenue.”

He closed the sermon by welcoming anyone from the congregation to come to the stage if they had not yet proclaimed their faith in God. After a few moments, a teenage boy came down from the balcony with his father and met the Reverend on the floor. A woman from the ground floor joined them and they prayed together while the crowd applauded. When Reverend Butts concluded the sermon, the crowd rose for a standing ovation before making their way out the door.

“The way he opened his heart to that boy, I felt the sincerity of both of their spirits” said a woman named Karen, visiting the Island from Boston. “It felt like a real community,” she said.

Posing with parishioners after the sermon. — Jeanna Shepard

Elsewhere on the lawn, another woman took pictures of the chapel as the crowd descended. “I was thinking about my two sons,” said Marsha Scott-Warner of Denver, Colo. “I hope I instilled enough integrity in them. I think I did.”

Haywood Perry III, waited inside the chapel to pose for a picture with Reverend Butts. A student at the Yale Divinity school, Mr. Perry said that the Reverend’s words were inspirational and timely.

“He gave transformative remarks,” Mr. Perry said. “This is a critical moment in American history. His ability to be able to speak truth to power, that really resonated with me.”

Mr. Perry approached the Reverend and shook his hand. He described his studies and Reverend Butts leaned in to speak into his ear. Mr. Perry and another young man posed beside the pastor, and the three men smiled into the camera.

The few remaining worshippers thanked Reverend Butts, then walked out into the open air, letting the midday sun shine in their faces as they walked to Circuit avenue.