August 9, 2013

Bilingual choir performs at Protestant church anniversary service

Members of the bilingual choir at St. Joseph Parish in Corydon sing during the 170th anniversary service of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, also located in Corydon, on July 21. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

Members of the bilingual choir at St. Joseph Parish in Corydon sing during the 170th anniversary service of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, also located in Corydon, on July 21. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

CORYDON—Members of the bilingual choir at St. Joseph Parish in Corydon were surprised and honored on July 21 to find themselves the only group invited to provide music for the 170th anniversary service of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, also located in Corydon.

St. Paul is the first and oldest African-American congregation still in existence in Harrison County. It was organized in 1843 by black pioneers, many of them slaves originally brought to Indiana from Virginia and later freed. Others escaped slavery in Kentucky by crossing the Ohio River into the county.

St. Paul is a short walk from St. Joseph Parish, which was founded in 1896. In 1991, the Catholic parish took its first turn hosting the community’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. tribute. In recent years, the parish’s bilingual choir has been one of several groups to sing at the interfaith program, so they expected to share the limelight on July 21.

“I expected to see several other choirs, black Gospel choirs, participating in this great celebration,” choir director Winnie Mikeska said. “I had no idea that our Hispanic bilingual choir would be the only one performing. What an honor!”

The group sang “De Colores” (“All the Colors”) in Spanish and English at the request of Jewel Brown, organizer of the anniversary service, who had heard them perform it at a Martin Luther King Jr. program. The song extols the beauty of diversity in nature and among people.

Brown said she likes the song “De Colores” because “when you put us all together, we make something beautiful. God knew what he was doing.”

The choir’s other selection was “Alabanzas Popurri” (“Praise Medley”), a rousing medley of Spanish hymns praising God.

“ ‘Alabanzas’ is lively and very Latino,” Mikeska said. “Everyone at St. Joseph’s loves to hear us sing it, so I thought St. Paul’s would enjoy it, too. I guess they did because they asked us to sing it again at the end of the service.”

The bilingual choir was formed in 2006 when the parish began offering a Spanish (later bilingual) Mass. Its current Latino members are from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico. The rest are members of European descent, who have learned enough Spanish to sing at the parish’s weekly bilingual Mass.

Cindy Bauer, a member of St. Joseph Parish’s peace and social justice committee and the bilingual choir, remembers when the parish first hosted the Martin Luther King Jr. program. Working with an interfaith group to plan the program each year, Bauer has become friends with members of St. Paul, including Brown.

“Through the years, Jewel and I have worked on the MLK program and other community things as the need arose,” Bauer said. “I got to know her heart, and this is where prejudices end, where color is blind and hearts begin. I think any time we can dispel the myths of the differences between cultures, races, denominations, we’re on the right track.

“Worshipping together,” she added, “although different from our own celebration of the holy Mass, is a sign of respect for one another’s practices and beliefs. We grow and find joy when we accept the gifts that diversity brings to our own lives and even to our worship.”

The theme of the anniversary service was “Fruit of the Spirit.” The Rev. Jerry Robinson, pastor of St. Paul, led an opening procession in which members assembled many kinds of fruit in a box as they entered to a recording of “Take Me to the King.” The pastor read from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, which exhorts, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Eph 5:25).

Brown was applauded when she told visitors, “We welcome you here. This is God’s house. If you feel like shouting, shout. If you feel like clapping, clap. We’re not going to worry about the weather outside. We’re going to make a storm inside!”

Those attending the anniversary service were from Corydon and neighboring southern Indiana communities; St. Louis, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; Russellville, Ky.; and California. Their denominations included AME, Baptist, Catholic, Full Gospel and Methodist. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!