clarissa_willis_web.jpgAVENTURA — First ladies of worship were honored last weekend in an event that noted their contributions to style.

“I believe that everything I do in Christ should be done in excellence,” said Toni Cooper, first lady of the Unity Tabernacle Praise and Worship Center in Liberty City. “Being mindful and proud of how I look is an important aspect of being a Christian lady.”


Live music, a heavenly chocolate sampling, complimentary massages, manicures and makeovers made for a fine afternoon affair on Saturday, June 26 at the Macy’s store in the Aventura Mall.

“The whole purpose was to make the first ladies feel special, elevate them,” said Rhea Brown, vice president and general manager of the Aventura Macy’s store.

The event was one of the store’s initiatives aimed at the African-American community, a sizable portion of the shop’s clientele.

A spring runway show with a collection of garments — both classic and on-trend — by BCBG, Michael Kors, Inc. and Alfani, among others, featured multiple-purpose ensembles that can double as office and church outfits.

“Being a first lady is not as glamorous as it looks,” said Cooper, who also works at Miami Norland Senior High School as a test chair, responsible for administering tests such as the FCAT. “Dressing up is part of it, but we also share the whole burden of the ministry with our husbands — calls in the middle of the night, cleaning the church’s toilets — that is all part of the package.”

A Weston-based company, ICABA (Identifying, Connecting and Activating the Black Accomplished) has organized a series of events to raise awareness of the often-overlooked role of these “mothers of the congregation” who offer vital leadership in their communities.

On July 11, ICABA will hold a recognition brunch for church first ladies at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.

“This celebrates the fact that we are not invisible,” said Clarissa Willis, first lady of the Church of the Open Door in Liberty City, who modeled three outfits on the Macy’s runway on June 26. “Our role in the ministry is often overshadowed by our husbands’.”

To April Johnson-Bynes, a co-pastor at Greater Macedonia Christian Center Ministries in Oakland Park, the event offered first ladies a downtime to be mindful of their appearance.

“Black women are beautiful, and come in many varieties,” she said. “We can walk in anything.”

She noted that when it comes to church dress code, the gates of fashion are wide open.

“Dressing to church has become more exciting,” she said. “When I was growing up, skirts were down to ankles. Next weekend, I’ll ­be standing next to my husband in red pumps.”

Accioly.Juliana@Yahoo.com

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Clarissa Willis, first lady of the Church of the Open Door in Liberty City.