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Big Tent music director attracts local talent as worship leaders

‘Glory to God’ contributor Paul Vasile makes space for diverse styles, voices

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Paul Vasile invites the congregation to sing. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – Worship planning is well underway for this year’s Big Tent gathering of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in St. Louis, and musician Paul Vasile has something special in store for attendees. The multitalented musician and worship leader is bringing together a community choir and a host of local musicians to collaborate for services on the campus of Washington University, July 6–8.

“There’s a real stated focus and intentionality about representing music from different pieces of our Presbyterian and larger cultural musical life,” says Vasile of the emphasis on the diversity of music at Big Tent worship services.

In addition to “classic hymnody,” he says world music, gospel and African-American traditional music, and Latin American music will be present. Vasile is also tapping into the rich history of jazz and blues in St. Louis, especially for the opening service.

“We’re really wanting to make a conscious effort to do justice to these musical traditions,” he says. “As a white musician my job is not to stand up there and direct a gospel choir and pretend that I’m something other than I am. My job is to invite, make space for leaders of color to be present, and to do that with the authenticity I know they will bring to the process.”

Renowned St. Louis gospel musician Kyle Kelley is helping to prepare the choir and will serve as the pianist for the opening service. Vasile is also working with local congregations to assemble a community choir of 40–50 people.

“It’ll be a great combination of folks representing a good breadth of our Presbyterian community and even churches from outside the PC(USA), including some Baptist and nondenominational churches,” he says.

Paul Vasile. (Photo provided)

Among many other credentials, Vasile is director of music at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where he directs the seminary choir, collaborates with faculty and student worship leaders, and serves as a resource to the wider faith community. He also contributed music for three hymns in the PC(USA) Glory to God hymnal: Glory to God (#582), Holy, Holy, Holy (#592) and Lamb of God (#603).

Vasile says the context of St. Louis and the events following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, will play an important part of incorporating themes and songs from the local African-American community in St. Louis into Big Tent worship. He says the shooting death of Michael Brown has changed how institutions speak about racism, white privilege and the political dynamics of the region.

“I’m connected to a lot of [Eden Seminary] students and faculty who were there on the ground when Ferguson happened, and I can tell you that it’s not an easy conversation,” he says. “Eden just restructured its entire curriculum [after Ferguson] because they realized they can’t continue to form graduates without context, without a deepening understanding of the world we live in.”

Vasile’s response to these difficult conversations and the injustices they represent is to pray.

“What I really pray is that under the surface, people do not see just visibly white people in leadership [at Big Tent],” he says. “I hope that maybe one of the ways the music ministry will weave its way through the important work of the week is that we’re intentionally asking people of color to be our leaders.”


Big Tent registration information and program details are available at this link.

For text updates on this year’s event, text BIGTENT to 41411.

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