By Susan Bailey
Each Sunday at 11:30 a.m. a joyful noise is raised up to God in multiple languages at St. Andrew’s Church in Worcester. Formed in 2000, the African Choir is spreading the Good News with their spirit-filled music. Now they are seeking a wider audience through their first CD, “The Gift of Love” (Zawadi ya UPendo), set for release with a party on Dec. 3 at the Manor in West Boylston.
“We realized that our call to spread the Gospel through singing should not be confined only to a small geographical area,” said choir director Michael Mbowa and chairperson Mary Kiarie.
Since travel outside of the area was not a practical option, the African Choir chose instead to record the CD to accomplish their mission.
“By distributing our music digitally across the globe, we envision reaching a wider audience and touch[ing] many souls,” said Mr. Mbowa and Ms. Kiarie.
A handful of African Catholics who attended Mass at St. Peter Church in Worcester proved to be the beginning of the choir.
“The group of Africans grew bigger and they requested St. Peter’s pastor Monsignor (Francis J.) Scollen for a slot to celebrate an African Mass at least monthly,” said Mr. Mbowa and Ms. Kiarie. “As a result, this created an urge for music lovers to form a small group to start animating the Mass the African way.”
Working with Msgr. Scollen and Father Anthony Oguleye, the group compiled an African hymnal and began teaching the songs to the congregation. Now boasting 16 members (10 women and six men) from Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, the choir leads the people weekly in worship characterized by spirited singing, swaying and clapping.
As the African group currently makes it home at St. Andrew Mission at 5 Spaulding St., Worcester (still under the Mother Church of St. Peter’s) they adopted the name St. Andrew’s African Ministry Choir.
The group recorded their CD in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., between November of 2015 and September of 2016. “Members feel encouraged and inspired by making this great step. They feel their faith continu[ing] to grow and strengthen by sharing the word of God through singing,” Mr. Mbowa and Ms. Kiarie responded in an email.
CD sales are just the first step toward supporting the choir ministry.
“While we do not anticipate the sales to fully support the choir ministry, we believe it will add something to the basket, hence reliev[ing] members’ burden in sustaining the choir,” they said. Plans are in the works for a video to accompany the CD, with sales helping to finance this project.
Members and congregants have received many blessings from the uplifting nature of African music. It has also proven to be an effective evangelization tool.
“The music [is] drawing back some of the fallen away Catholics who had joined other denominations in search of a familiar and a more engaging style of worship,” they noted.
Young people have also been inspired by the music, resulting in the creation of a children’s choir.
The younger generations have also been highly involved in the music program at St. Andrew’s. “In addition to the adult choir, we also have a very vibrant Children’s Choir that is contemplating releasing an album in the near future,” according to Mr. Mbowa and Ms. Kiarie.
Despite the music being sung in Swahili and English, “spiced with Latin and other African languages, including French,” no language barrier separates the people from the message of the Good News.
“Music is the common language,” they said.
Judging from the enthusiastic response at each Sunday Mass, the message of the Gospel is coming through.
– The African Choir CD Party will take place on Dec. 3, at the Manor in West Boylston. Watch for more information in The Catholic Free Press. Visit their website at www.africanchoir.org.