When thinking about taking his choir from Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, abroad, Director of Music Jimmy Jones really had his eye on one thing: the prestigious cathedrals of England.
“When Emily [Frye, ACFEA Tour Manager] and I ‘dreamed’ about the tour, I named my top places to sing, and we were able to secure concerts at all three!” Jones said. Concert venues included Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral, Bath Abbey, Bristol Cathedral and Wesley’s Chapel in London.
Before the group left, Jimmy wrote the following message to the congregation:
The Chancel Choir and most of the music staff are leaving for England on Thursday, May 23rd and will return Friday, May 31st. The Choir has worked SO hard over the past year preparing for this trip. To stand and sing God’s praises in the holy places where choirs have sung daily for centuries is both humbling and awesome. For the choir to sing a full chord down the nave of Bath Abbey, where it will famously reverberate for the next eight seconds, is nothing short of transcendent.
To the naked eye, these tours may seem glamorous. I prefer to see them as the ultimate challenge, thoroughly testing the choir’s musical skills, endurance, patience, commitment, humor, and willingness to live in community. All in all, we will sing five concerts/services on this seven day tour. The amount and scope of the repertoire is staggering: more than a dozen anthems by American composers (some memorized!), a setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Robert Powell, Preces and Responses by Craig Phillips, and even the 20 verses of Psalm 9 sung to Anglican chant!
Was all the planning and hard work worth it?
In the words of choir member Virginia Harrod:
“ ‘I owe my Lord a morning song. How can I help but sing, when God is all in all, and I am one with everything?’ I found this verse from a song by John Bell in the song book the morning we sang in Wesley’s Chapel. I think it sums up our trip to England. We became one with the history of the churches we sang in, and I thank God for the opportunity that was given to me to be in fellowship with friends, old and new. When we were singing, I felt closer to God than ever before. I truly felt that in that moment, God was all in all and I was one with everything. We became the embodiment of John Bell’s hymn.”
And from choir member Jennie Buckner:
“At the Bristol Cathedral concert, and especially during ‘Sing Me to Heaven,’ I couldn’t help but think about my brother Steve. It was the one-year anniversary of his death, and I realized that I would not have been at Bristol if it hadn’t been for him. Before he died, he had encouraged me to join the Chancel Choir. We both were inspired by the Easter Sunday service; and when I talked about how I loved the music and wished I could be part of this choir, he urged me to join. I made all kinds of excuses about why I couldn’t possibly. But he wasn’t buying them. ‘If you think there’s something that would bring you joy in this life, do it,’ he urged me. I couldn’t get his words out of my mind. And, a few weeks after he died, I knew I should act on them. I joined the Chancel Choir.
And now here I was, singing with them in this glorious cathedral. I was so grateful to be here; and certain that my brother was smiling down on this concert. The power of music to connect us with God and each other had never been clearer to me. What a blessing.”
Singing at Bristol was particularly memorable for Jimmy Jones, too. “It had rained all day, and we were frozen. But when the service began, the Holy Spirit began to move. We all felt it. The music no longer felt like a performance, but something much greater than the sum of the whole.
People are already asking, ‘Where are we going next?’ I’ve started dreaming…”