ST. PAUL, MN (August 17, 2015) — A three-day gospel music workshop featuring choirs from historic churches that normally minister several hundred miles apart was capped with a rousing concert last week, but the entire event was about far more than music.
The mutual love of gospel music brought together people of all ages, colors and class levels from St. Paul’s 141-year-old First Covenant Church and Chicago’s 113-year-old Oakdale Covenant Church. Several of the participants also came from local Covenant congregations, Abbey Way, and Roots Covenant Church, a newly started congregation. The workshops were free and open to the public and drew people from other parts of the Twin Cities as well.
Oakdale started as a white congregation, as did First Covenant. Oakdale is now a predominantly African American congregation, and the St. Paul church has become decidedly multiethnic as its neighborhood has changed and the church deliberately sought to reflect the surrounding community.
Part of that change for First Covenant has included starting an intentionally intergenerational and multicultural choir four years ago. The role of the choir in the regular worship of the church continues to grow, said Pastor Anne Vining.
Roughly 90 people sang in last week’s concert finale that included a mixture of traditional and contemporary music and drew several hundred people, said Vining. The Oakdale group sang several numbers before being joined on stage by the rest of the combined choir.
More than 100 people watched at least part of the concert via live stream. A local nonprofit provided the live streaming for free. Some of the highlights can be viewed on the First Covenant Facebook page.
During the workshops, participants learned the history of each song as well as the story of gospel music. The time together involved much more preparing for the concert, however.
Oakdale Covenant’s acclaimed youth choir has toured Sweden and sang with some of gospel music’s biggest names, but the event exposed the Chicago choristers to things they had not experienced.
“This was an important ministry opportunity because it broadened the choirs’ exposure and interaction with other communities,” said choir manager Lisa Caridine. “This is the new normal for them.”
When Anne Vining preached, it was the first time most of the Oakdale youth had seen a white woman preach, said Leslie Sanders. He and his wife, Brandi, who arranged the workshop, previously served on staff at Oakdale before coming to First Covenant.
The Oakdale choir sang on Sunday during First Covenant’s Sunday-morning service and later that afternoon during an outdoor baptism and dedication service at a local lake. “It was a powerful time together as the choir did an impromptu performance of ‘O Happy Day’ prior to the infant dedication and a reaffirmation of baptism,” Vining said. Another impromptu concert was held for staff of Minnehaha Academy, when the Chicago youth visited the school.
Donna Harris, Minnehaha’s principal, said she hopes to arrange for the Chicago choir to make a return trip to sing at the school.