A community choir that started with a dream

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It’s well known that singing is good for the soul. Here Steve Flashman writes about his experiences of community choirs that offer Christians an amazing missional opportunity.

I woke up one night, sat bolt upright in bed and started singing, Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer, much to the shock and surprise of my wife! I had been watching an inspiring arrangement of this great old hymn on Songs Of Praise, performed by a male voice choir using lighting and visual effects. I couldn’t stop thinking about the huge potential for a community choir in our own area and within a couple of weeks, we launched our first choir.

In 2010, my wife Sarah and I, with the support and blessing of the Bishop of Chichester, re-opened a derelict NHS Chapel on a decommissioned hospital site. Graylingwell Chapel became the venue for our first choir rehearsal. I well remember that first evening and wondering if anybody would turn up. I hadn’t done much in the way of publicity, just a leaflet-drop around the area.

The first night around 25 people came. The following week we had 50. The membership gathered momentum as people invited their friends to come along and within a few months, we had 200 members meeting every Tuesday evening. Community choirs are on the increase, probably inspired by the work of people like Gareth Malone and there is a growing body of evidence from medical research, showing that singing is good for you physically, psychologically and emotionally. What a great missional opportunity for the church!

Since 2010, my own community choirs have grown in number with five running in West Sussex and two in Buckinghamshire where I am now the team vicar of two rural parish churches. The choirs have presented incredible opportunities to build relationships with people who would never set foot inside a church building. And it’s not just about singing, it’s about meeting people, finding new friends with a common interest, growing in confidence, finding a voice, caring for one another, performing songs we love to sing and raising money for charity.

I have been invited to pray with people, bless their children and support the bereaved. At one choir rehearsal, I was asked to pray for the seriously ill grandchild of one of our members. I asked the choir if they would be happy for me to pray during the choir rehearsal. They nodded their approval and a quietness came over the gathering, with a sense of expectation that God might actually answer the prayer. A week later I was able to tell the choir that God had answered our prayers and the little girl was out of the hospital and was expected to recover fully. This incident alone had a tremendous impact on the choir.

We have a tried and tested strategy. All are welcome, regardless of their musical ability. We use lyric sheets, not a music score. I have a professional music background as a contemporary rock performer, so I arrange all the music and teach the choir by a “sing and repeat” method. It’s been an amazing opportunity to build relationships and share our faith.

The Revd Steve Flashman is Team Vicar in the Schorne Benefice.