Local gospel choir performs musical adaptation of sermons


This past weekend, Madison Square Church performed an adaptation of sermons from “God’s Trombones.” Photo courtesy Madison Square Church.

The Madison Square Church gospel choir and drama team performed a multicultural, musical adaptation of “God’s Trombones” by James Weldon Johnson this past weekend. Originally seven sermons written in verse, the musical presents the gospel message through drama, dance, music and visual art, and it invited audience participation throughout. Performances took place on both Feb. 10 and 11 and brought in members from all three Madison sites, as well as many visitors.

Madison Square’s newest staff member, worship director Kenneth Henderson, welcomed the congregation with the invitation to be a trombone, a vessel of worship that creates music for the Lord. Accepting this invitation, the congregation opened the program together by singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

The hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by Johnson and first performed by Florida school children in 1900. This song has been adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and is widely called the “Negro National Anthem” or the “Black American National Anthem.” Beginning in this way, the performance was framed by worship, pride and diversity.

After opening the service in prayer, the Madison gospel choir of approximately 35 members took the stage and began the program with the songs “Enter His Courts with Praise” and “Here As In Heaven.” In the latter, six middle school dancers enhanced the music with well-rehearsed choreography, red ribbons and red banners. When the song ended, the audience gave the choir and dancers a standing ovation.

At this time, with the atmosphere warm and worshipful, the remainder of the program began and moved through five sermons: “God Creates the World,” “We Turn Our Backs on God,” “God Saves Us,” “God Takes Us Home” and “God Calls You.”

Actors — including Pastor David Beelen and Calvin chemistry professor Herb Fynewever —played the role of the “preachers” in each of these sermons, and they artfully performed the Genesis 1 creation account, the parable of the prodigal son, the crucifixion and the coming judgement day.

“I felt as though I was invited, even urged, to see myself in the shoes of the young man [from ‘The Prodigal Son’],” said Johan Lee, a senior biochemistry and philosophy double major at Calvin. “I saw my own relationship with God reflected in the tone, modernity and emotion of the piece and the actors that brought it to life.”

At the end of each sermon, the gospel choir sang hymns including: “The Potter’s House,” “Great is thy Mercy,” “Give Me Jesus” and “Worth.” Each of the songs enhanced the sermon’s message that came before it and showed how art expresses more than words alone can.

Throughout the musical, the audience got involved. Shouts and amens affirmed the gospel message of the sermons, the music and the choir’s leadership in the worship experience. There were also several in the congregation who stood up during the songs and even more who clapped along.

A reception with cookies and lemonade followed both services.