Catholic Free Press

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  • Dec
  • 23

Coming together to sing as one

Posted By December 23, 2014 | 3:22 pm | Featured Article #3
WEB _2726FrOthsMessiah?

By Tanya Connor

The choir is centered on Jesus and is comprised  of his people from different denominations, who pray together, support one another and bring God to others.
It started with the Baptists, who then included the Catholics – one of whom was the Baptist church’s secretary. This Christmas it has representatives from 15  congregations, including its first Catholic priest.
The Christian Community Choir has been singing Christmas and Easter cantatas in various places for the past several years. Theirs is a story full of happy surprises.
This year’s first Christmas concert, held Dec. 6 at Leicester First Congregational Church, did indeed “celebrate King Jesus,” as one song called for. The joy over the coming of God, “born to save us all,” showed in singers’ smiles and resounded through the Good News set to lively music.
The choir, accompanied by a background track of recorded music, sang “Hope of the Broken World: A Christmas Musical,” created by songwriter David Clark and composer David T. Clydesdale.
The concert is being repeated at 2 p.m. Dec. 28 at The Overlook Charlton, 88 Masonic Home Rd., Charlton, and 2 p.m. Jan. 4 at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, on the corner of Blaine Avenue and North Brookfield Road, in East Brookfield.
Directing the cantata is Linda Cross, director of the East Brookfield Baptist Church Choir. The program was performed at her church last Sunday.
Mrs. Cross said her husband, Rev. Kevin Cross, doesn’t sing in the cantata “because he has to watch the kids” – and has responsibilities as pastor. But four of their 11 children (nine of whom they adopted from Haiti, Russia or the United States) are singing.
Their 25-year-old daughter Stephanie Cross is singing a duet with Father Donald C. Ouellette, associate pastor of St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph’s in North Brookfield.
Mrs. Cross, Father Ouellette and Susan Jacobs told how they got to this point.
Mrs. Jacobs, now Catholic, was secretary at the Baptist church and had sung in the cantata when she belonged to that church.
Mrs. Cross said she grew up in East Brookfield Baptist, and left to accompany her husband to seminary, but have returned.
In 2006 Mrs. Cross took over as choir director from her father J. Theodor “Ted” Steensen Sr. (She has a master’s degree in choral conducting from the University of Connecticut and a bachelor’s in music education from Boston University.)
The ministry included directing the church’s cantata,  sacred music with narration, on Easter morning.
“My father kept saying to me, ‘You should invite St. John the Baptist to sing,’” Mrs. Cross said. The churches had co-hosted ecumenical services.
Mrs. Cross asked Father George A. Charland, then St. John’s pastor, to extend the invitation to sing to his parishioners.
In 2007, three joined the group, including Mrs. Jacobs, and the choir sang at both churches.
“It was my mother who said, ‘I think they’re going to be inviting other churches; you’re going to come, aren’t you?’” Mrs. Jacobs said. “It was … not really a question.”
Her mother, Virginia Allen, of East Brookfield Baptist, sings in the cantata. At 81, she is one of the oldest members. Alice Sullivan, of Mary, Queen of the Rosary,  Catholic parish in Spencer, is also 81, as is Mrs. Cross’ father, who is sitting out this season because of surgery. The youngest singer is Caseem Cross, 9, who sings a children’s trio with Geneeva and Gisela Rivera.
Mrs. Jacobs was a member of the Baptist church – and its secretary – in 1998, when she married Kenneth Jacobs of St. John the Baptist. She later converted to Catholicism, but remained secretary at the Baptist church until she left to help her husband with his business, she said.
Father Ouellette is the choir’s first Catholic priest. He’s joined by another member of the clergy, Pastor Nancy Allen, of Spencer United Methodist Church.
Mrs. Cross said she prays about who to recruit for special parts; she doesn’t have auditions. She felt Father Ouellette was to sing a duet with her daughter. Mrs. Jacobs said Mrs. Cross asked her whether Catholic priests sing the type of music she had in mind for him.
“I was glad I knew Susan; I didn’t want to offend anybody,” Mrs. Cross said. She described the piece she wanted Father Ouellette to sing, “O Bethlehem Mornin’,”  as “gospelly, jazzy.”
“I said, ‘Oh yeah, he’d do that,’” Mrs. Jacobs recalled.
“I played in a rock band in high school and college,” Father Ouellette said. In the 1990s he sang with the Salisbury Singers. Now he plays the organ, piano, accordion or guitar wherever and whenever he can.
He said he’d seen the cantata last Christmas and Easter, after being assigned to St. John the Baptist, and was considering joining; he was drawn by “the faith dimension.”
Patricia Sweet, of Mary, Queen of the Rosary, said fellow-parishioner Leanne Chabior invited her to join. Ms. Sweet claimed she was too busy. But when she heard the choir last Christmas, their enthusiasm inspired her.
“I just so want to belong to this group,” she decided, and joined for Easter.
The cantata has grown. The Easter 2007 program lists 36 singers. This Christmas there are 66.
“People invited people from churches,” Mrs. Cross said. “It’s about Jesus. It’s a whole body of believers praying together.”
She said they respect each others’ faith, share and pray about concerns together, e-mail prayer requests, send cards to the sick and support one another. She told of sick members not expected to be able to sing, who did so after they prayed for them.
“It is a community,” she said.
And a ministry, Father Ouellette added.
Janice Baronoski, of Mary, Queen of the Rosary, called it fabulous, inspiring and powerful “because all of us here are coming together from different denominations.”
“And I think God likes it, because he helps us sing,” she said. “We somehow collectively are bringing God closer to the people who have broken hearts.” She said they try to make eye contact with listeners and smile to show how much they’re enjoying it.

– Those interested in joining the Easter cantata can contact East Brookfield Baptist Church at or 508-867-7725.