Ecumenical Choir wants an Encore!
By happy co-incidence, Northampton Cathedral’s service to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vatican II document Unitatis Redintegratio, the Restoration of Unity, was held during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In planning this event, which was to bring together a large number of regional Church Leaders ranging from Catholic and Greek Orthodox to Pentecostal churches, the choice of music needed to be easily accessible to enable everyone to participate fully. Colossians 3:16 says “With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God...” so we choose a range of music, and as this was a 50th Anniversary celebration we also decided to form an ecumenical choir of 50 singers to sing the Hallelujah Chorus!
Restricting this to people who had sung the Hallelujah Chorus before, so that a minimum number of rehearsals would be needed, we advertised through a network of Catholic and ecumenical connections and the local RSCM. The first two basses signed up at Prayer & Praise for Northampton, which that month was held at the New Testament Church of God. News spread, more singers volunteered, and after an interview on local radio, our ecumenical choir of 50 people was complete, made up of singers from 23 local churches, from Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal denominations. After only two rehearsals, they confidently led the congregation in song, and ended the service with a most joyful and uplifting performance of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Some music from Taizé was used very effectively to accompany a symbolic action, in which all were invited to dip their hand into a bowl of water, as a sign of our shared Baptism. It was a significant gesture, accompanied by the gentle chant of There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, based on Ephesians Chapter 4. A second chant, Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes, Alleluia, joyfully led up to the proclamation of the Gospel by the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate. Afterwards, a Nigerian Pentecostal minister in the congregation told me that he had never heard of music from Taizé before, but he had been moved by the beauty of Laudate Dominum, even though it was in a language that he did not know. Such is the power of God’s gift of music.
50 years ago, this ecumenical choir would have been unthinkable and impossible. We have clearly come a long way since then, as the willingness of these people from different churches to sing and unite as a team has illustrated. The sheer joy and power of making music together in God’s house, has left a deep impression on us all, as we expressed and experienced our desire for unity in this way.
The verse of Psalm 117 on which Laudate Dominum is based says: Praise the Lord all you nations, praise him all you peoples. Alleluia! If by forming ecumenical choirs for special occasions, we could hasten the day when ALL peoples will experience what it means to praise the Lord, what an Encore there would be!
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