CHICAGO, IL (February 18, 2015) — Oakdale Christian Academy Choir celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. The children’s gospel choir based out of Oakdale Covenant Church on the South Side of Chicago was originally formed as part of the church’s fundraising efforts to provide disaster relief to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Their plan was to perform one time at the fundraiser. But a few days later, choir director Terrance Smith got a phone call asking the choir to book another performance.
At the time Smith was working as an administrative assistant at Oakdale Christian Academy when the call came in at the school office. “I transferred them to the church office, because I assumed they were asking about the church choir,” he says with a laugh. “They were like, ‘No, we want the children’s choir.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that was really just the one time….’”
As more invitations and requests came in, the choir continued to meet, rehearse, and perform. Five years later the choir regularly performs throughout the city and has traveled as far as Sweden in its music ministry. The group has grown to 95 members, maxing out its rehearsal space. “We hold auditions for space reasons,” Smith says. Students are mostly between first- and eighth-graders at Oakdale Christian Academy.
For Smith, one of the hardest parts about directing such a large choir is choosing who will get to perform at concerts in smaller venues. “Trying to pick a group with everyone looking at you with yearning in their eyes—you never want them to feel like they’re not good enough,” he says.
Lisa Caridine, also a member of the church, got involved with the choir when she was asked to coordinate last July’s Stockholm tour. When the group returned, people started referring to her as the choir’s manager and press agent.
“Most people don’t want to do the part that’s not up front and center,” Caridine says. “[The idea that] my little gift of administration could be used toward that purpose blessed me tremendously.”
As director, Smith works hard to instill the idea that the choir is not just an extracurricular activity but a ministry opportunity. Weekly rehearsals begin with a Scripture reading and reflection time, and children are encouraged to pray with and for each other, as well as for their audiences.
“It’s great to see their ministry, because they do minister,” Caridine says. She adds that the choir gives the students a renewed sense of hope. “You see it in how they view themselves, as ‘I am significant in the kingdom [of God].’ ”
Caridine says that she notices a difference in how choir alums view and engage with the world. “They see themselves as global,” she says, as students learn to look beyond their own neighborhood and see what’s happening in other parts of the world. Overall, she says, “This is a ministry that is positioning children for greatness.”
The choir performs regularly throughout the Chicago area and has shared the stage with renowned artists such as Jennifer Hudson and Common. The choir also has a partnership with North Park University, where they have participated in chapel services and traveled with the School of Music.
There have also been efforts to incorporate cross-cultural workshops and increase the focus on global missions, which in part led to the trip to Sweden. Their performance there was televised, and Smith says he enjoyed seeing his students recognized by people on the street in Stockholm after the concert.
Of course, all of that performing and traveling takes a lot of work, and Smith credits students’ parents for helping make it possible. They help out as carpool drivers or trip chaperones and attend performances. “We have lots of support,” Smith says.
The choir hasn’t forgotten their beginnings at the disaster-relief fundraiser. They will perform at a disaster preparedness workshop at the end of February, and they plan to tour Ground Zero when they travel to New York City in July.