"Community Spirit" Gospel Choir

Epping Green Chapel, Essex

Interest in Community Choirs has really taken off in the last couple of years. A choir at Epping Green Chapel, - a Rural Ministries Partner church in Essex - reaches out to the local community with the Word of God in song. Jane Walker, who started up and leads the choir, explains:

Community Spirit" is an inclusive community choir, under Christian leadership but open to people of any faith or even none at all. We sing contemporary gospel with an authentic sound and an uplifting and heart-warming feel! Our aim is to bless others and make God and people happy!

The roots of modern gospel are in the songs of hope and freedom sung by African slaves in Americas Deep South. Many of these were based on the songs of the Israelites held captive in Egypt thousands of years ago. Their cry for freedom and message of hope in times of trouble is still relevant today which is why we have "gospelised" some of the choruses we sing and love such as, "Amazing Grace", "I'm trading my sorrows", "Jesus, hope of the nations" etc. For instruments we have Pam on keyboard, James and me on guitar and Michael on Bongos. We also use some backing tracks for songs like "Lean on me", "You raise me up", "My Tribute" and "Amazing Grace".

In our concerts I encourage people to use their gifts such as playing the Ukulele, the harmonica and singing solos. We sometimes perform with other bands. And during our concerts someone from the choir will give a testimony. To help the feeling of unity as well as looking smart we have invested in some lovely lilac scarves and bow ties which we wear with black when performing.

We meet in the Chapel on alternate Thursday evenings from 7pm to 9pm. We commence with prayer, vocal and breathing and stretching exercises before practice. I ask £3 per session which goes towards paying for the music we have to buy and a CD we hope to make one day. We have also had three master classes with Andrew Castle who is a professional singer and great fun! He has given us some great tuition and encouragement.

I am not qualified as a musician but have sung all my life and played guitar for over 30 years. While working in Africa I had a men's choir and a women's choir which were appreciated and I decided that I would start a choir here in the UK on my return. Despite my lack of formal training I praise God for His encouragement and the enthusiasm of the people that attend Community Spirit. We have approximately 20 people attend and people can come and have time off when they wish too.

We thoroughly enjoy what we do and do not charge for a performance, which helps organisations approach us. We have performed in a home for epilepsy, OAP homes, St Claire's Hospice, village days, performed a concert for the local hospice and joined in church events. We have also taken part in a choirs day. One of our altos uses a wheelchair and has a helper dog called "Della" that comes with her which people also enjoy petting.

I am thrilled to report that after performing in an elderly persons' home I received a beautiful card to say that one of my tenors' mental health had improved as a direct result of his singing in the choir. His wife had written to me to say thank you for that and to encourage me, which it has. It goes to show that when we offer our praise to God, He sometimes improves our health as well in His providence. The wonderful thing is that you take the Word of God with you in song and people love the choir, which is always such an encouragement.

I would like to encourage anyone who wants to have a go, you don't have to be perfect as a choir just enthusiastic, loving and wanting to bless any person you sing to! At the same time I believe that you cannot out-give God and it will do you good too!