By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (March 1, 2013) – When Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom emailed the North Park Theological Seminary community to gauge interest in forming a gospel choir to sing in chapel services during February – which also was Black History Month – she could not anticipate such a large response or that the group would be sought out to lead worship elsewhere.
In addition to singing during each of the February chapel services, the gospel choir has performed at the College Life service and most recently the weekly Covenant Offices chapel service. They are slated to sing at the meeting of the Covenant Executive Board later this month and at several more seminary chapels.
Click here to watch a video of the choir singing at the Covenant Offices chapel service this past Wednesday.
“Within two days of sending out the announcement, I received over 30 emails expressing interest in joining, and most are now participants,” says Clifton-Soderstrom, the associate professor of theology and ethics at the seminary. She adds that no experience is needed other than a love for singing and a desire to learn gospel music.
“It has been an amazing experience for participants with varied experiences to come together to learn, and then lead worship in the rich context of gospel music,” Clifton-Soderstrom says. Members of the choir include students, faculty, and staff from both the seminary and university.
The choir was formed following discussions by the chapel and the globalization and diversity committees. “We were jointly examining our worship practices in light of multiculturalism and diversity,” says Clifton-Soderstrom.
The choir is led by seminary students Brandi Sanders, who has significant experience directing gospel choirs, and Marcus Simmons, who also is a university staff member. Seminary students Stephen Borlin and Tim White, as well as university student Monica Laytham, provide the instrumental backup.
Rehearsals began in January and have been intensive as well as joyful. “We are committing a lot of time to this, but it’s all out of a love for the music and a desire to glorify God,” Clifton-Soderstrom says.
Participants have been learning more than vocal parts. “We also thought it important to have a teaching component for choir members to learn more about its (gospel music) history and composition,” Clifton-Soderstrom explains. Simmons gave a brief overview during the Covenant Offices chapel.
“Brandi and Marcus require a lot of us, but their leadership is supportive and encouraging,” Clifton-Soderstrom says. “Our rehearsals include prayer requests and are themselves worship. I think I speak for many choir members in saying that when Brandi and Marcus are leading us, we experience the power and love of Christ.”
The people who have heard the choir sing have experienced that same power and love.