Our Church in Mission | Carole A. Briggs
Mission in music
Choirs from small churches in north central Pennsylvania combine in response to disaster.
If you like to sing, chances are you sing because it’s fun. You sing for the simple joy of singing. Over the years, that’s how we felt in the choir of the Presbyterian Church of Brookville in north central Pennsylvania. Our purpose was to come together for the joy of singing. We didn’t think of what we were doing as mission.
That changed in 2003 when fire destroyed the Pisgah Presbyterian Church in nearby Corsica. Our choir wanted to do something in response. We wanted to lend support. So we did what we do best.
Joining with five other choirs from neighboring Presbyterian congregations, we began our first choir celebration with “When We Worship God through Music.” And when Pisgah moved into its new sanctuary in 2006, we sang “Bless This House.”
We didn’t plan to continue, but after each celebration, the expectation for another remained.
In 2005, pastor Olivier Munyasanga, a PC(USA) peacemaker, spoke with Kiskiminetas Presbytery about the growing faith of the Rwandan people in the wake of the 1994 genocide that had resulted in the deaths of nearly a million people in just 100 days. In response, our presbytery sent a delegation, including teaching elder Boyd Edmondson, to Rwanda in 2006. The next spring, when he described the mission project, our combined choirs sang “Sing Out Your Song, Christians of the World,” and we collected an offering in support.
That summer, three weeks before leaving for Rwanda, Edmondson’s daughter, Katie, died in an automobile accident. Though grieving, he still went. “My faith in God was restored in Rwanda,” he now says.
Two years later, when floods caused devastation in Iowa, our presbytery partnered with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) to send a mission team in response, and we sang “Come to the Water.” When flooding devastated New Orleans that year, another PDA mission team responded, and our combined choirs sang “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.”
By that point, music had deepened our bonds with the choirs from the other congregations—Pisgah, Mt. Tabor, Beechwoods Presbyterian near Falls Creek, First Presbyterian in Marienville, and Sugar Hill Presbyterian near Brockway. And our celebrations continued.
When an earthquake and tsunami caused devastation in Japan in 2011, we sang “There Is a Season” and collected offerings for PDA. A year later, when tornadoes left a swath of destruction in the heartland, we sang the meditative “Sanctus.”
We know that we too are not immune from disaster. In 2013, we took up an offering for local first-responder agencies. For that celebration, we sang “Pray for the People.”
When our voices joined 10 years ago in the first measures of “When We Worship God through Music,” one soprano remarked, “This is going to be something wonderful.”
And wonderful it has been.
Ilene Bovaird, 95, has attended all of the choir celebrations. This year she remarked: “I like the spirit that the singers put into their music and the selections the different choirs have chosen over the years. And I especially like the vitality when the men sing!”
We hope that that vitality will carry us into an 11th year of choir celebrations. But we are confident of one thing.
Our mission will be carried out through our music.
Carole A. Briggs sings alto in the choir of the Presbyterian Church of Brookville, Pennsylvania. She also has written the 2000 book The Presbyterian Church of Brookville, Pennsylvania: A History.
Learn more, get involved
Use the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, published annually and packed with stories and mission information as well as daily prayers and lectionary readings. Order the book, read selections online or subscribe to receive entries by email or podcast: visit the Mission Yearbook website