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Singing in the Spirit
An African-American choir that relies on God's Spirit, captures the hearts of listeners by giving glory to God publicly.

"The Little Choir With its Name in Lights," read the title boldly. "Great!" I thought. "Here I may find some tips on conducting." But this Toronto Star article had much more to teach me than mere technical advice.

The singers attend one of seven Canadian congregations of the African Methodist Episcopal Church …

It stated that the Witness Concert Choir had been chosen to take part in the Inaugural Celebration of the newly-renovated Hummingbird Centre in Toronto, sharing the stage with the likes of Karen Kain and other famous Canadian performers. Their music was described as "heart-thumping, skin-jumping" and "joyous." "The minute they sang," one listener said, "chills went through me. I had goose bumps and I was so moved, I had tears in my eyes." I have heard them once too, and I had the same reaction.

Who are these amazing singers? Witness is a fifteen-member volunteer vocal group which is an off-shoot of a larger choir called Divine Inspiration. The singers attend one of seven Canadian congregations of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest and largest independent black denomination in the United States. The conductor is Rosie Daniel-Fletcher, a woman who is not only a gifted choir leader and magnificent soloist but also the minister's wife. The choir has been so successful that they are thinking of turning professional in order to have the time, money and resources to respond to invitations from Bermuda, South Africa, and the United States.

What did I learn from this group? Five important things which should encourage all of us:

Rebirth is possible

Before the dynamic Fletcher couple arrived at Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church, 35 people attended Sunday services at a church that could hold more than 300. A faithful few peppered their bishop in Chicago with pleas until he sent the new pastoral team to turn things around. "We kept complaining that people have to be fed or else why come to church?" said one member. Within a year, the combination of inspirational preaching and roof-raising singing packed the church every Sunday.

Obstacles can be overcome

One of the first invitations for Divine Inspiration to sing outside of their church provoked racist phone calls to the concert's organizers. But the concert was a sellout, and its very success led to the formation of the smaller Witness choir.

Christian performances can be critically acclaimed

The directors of Witness demand a great deal of their choir members, both spiritually and professionally. And they get results. How many times do we have a lackadaisical attitude about worship yet still expect to draw a critically-supportive crowd?

Christian commitment makes a difference

"We are not performers, we feel the Spirit, and are divinely guided," said Daniel-Fletcher. "We don't take bows; we praise God and give thanks instead. We rejected good singers for Witness because their Christian Walk was not strong enough." Each rehearsal begins with a half-hour Bible study led by one of the group members.

Spirit-filled volunteers get results

"Everything at Grant has happened so fast and so smoothly because the Lord is guiding us,'' believes an assistant choir director. "The choir members understand the need to be as one with the Spirit and are willing to make sacrifices. "When we're asked to answer the call, we'll be there," she added.

And when Witness sings, He is there. You can feel it.

Dawn Martens is a music teacher in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, March 1997.




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