Gospel Choir as Spiritual Formation

“Starting a gospel choir has been huge for spiritual formation,” says David Bailey, music director at East End Fellowship in Richmond, Virginia. And it all started from a hug.

“Starting a gospel choir has been huge for spiritual formation,” says David Bailey, music director at East End Fellowship (EEF) in Richmond, Virginia.

 And it all started from a hug.

EEF had a good relationship with a local university, so they invited the school’s gospel choir to come sing. “Later, a lady from the neighborhood came up and hugged me. She said, ‘Thank you so much for doing our music.’ I realized that the medium of a black gospel choir really speaks to the hearts of many older people in the neighborhood—and their heart music wasn’t represented in our worship,” Bailey says.

“We’ve been intentional to value different ways of worshiping, to show that the freeform charismatic kind of black preaching is just as important as a sermon that follows a teaching outline. We allow for different worship expressions in how to baptize or whether to speak in tongues.

“Who’s up front communicates something about what’s valued. So when that lady said, ‘Hey, thanks,’ we realized we could do a gospel choir. And a poor person would probably have more gospel experience than an educated white person would have. So starting a gospel choir flips the power dynamic,” Bailey says.

EEF wanted to do black gospel music well and asked the best choir director in Richmond to give workshops. “Just because you’re white doesn’t mean you can’t be good at black gospel music. In our choir, we now have college-educated blacks, poor black people from the neighborhood, a white homeless guy, and a white guy selling high-end condos,” Bailey says.

The spiritual formation happens in several ways. Encouragement is part of black gospel music. Different vocal sections or soloists get a chance to shine, so everyone’s gifts are appreciated. “And even more important is the process of becoming one voice, whether your individual voice is weak or strong. That in itself is a microcosm of what it means to be in the body of Christ,” he says.

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