Choir tour is such a defining time for our 7th through 12th graders. It is 1/3 mission work (singing in retirement homes, working in food pantries, singing in worship services), 1/3 education (where else do you get a private tour of the celebrated Santa Fe Opera House one summer and a chance to see this country’s first ever Methodist church the next?), and 1/3 a reward for a year’s worth of hard work.
(Click on the pictures to enlarge)
This year, our Cornerstone Youth Choir went to New York City — all five boroughs — and played, learned, and worked like there was no tomorrow. We put in three hard hours at the Legacy Food Bank, which serves the poorest population in Brooklyn; we sang at a retirement home that, unbeknownst to us, had residents who either spoke Spanish or Mandarin/Cantonese; we sang in a very upscale retirement home in Flushing Meadows, and again at one in the Carnegie Hill area of Manhattan. Each time we sing, we conclude by singing hymns and songs side-by-side with the residents, followed by a time of fellowship with each person who came to hear us. Our youth are the cream of the crop when it comes to that — they adore the residents, and the residents adore them, and an indelible mark is made.
We visited the September 11th Memorial and paused to remember that awful day. This picture is of Gage Laswell in his “Seniors 2019” shirt, representing the first graduating class of students largely born after 9/11/01 — life has a quiet way of moving on and healing itself.
Several youth were asked to research and share a brief history of several places we visited, so our trip on the Staten Island Ferry, our trip to John Street Church, our trip to the Museum of the Moving Image were each filled with facts and descriptions that helped pave our way.
But it wasn’t all work and no play.
We finished a very long first day by relaxing at Rockaway Beach (which was heavily impacted by Hurricane Sandy) and we saw the smash hit musical, “Wicked,” on Broadway.
And while it didn’t come naturally to us, we cheered on the Yankees as they won the game in the bottom of the 9th inning on the 4th of July.
We bought pretzels and hotdogs on the street; we ate dollar pizza in Time’s Square; and we sat in scenic parks with sandwiches as we soaked in our surroundings. And on Sunday morning, our choir of 27 sang at the historic Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.
What can’t be captured in a sentence or a picture is the life changing work that happens as we are in community with each other for a week. Youth learn to take care of each other, to listen closely to one another, and bonds are made in ways that, in a moment, we cannot understand. What we know, however, is that we are planting trees under which we may never sit.
A choir is formed each week when we rehearse from 4:00 to 5:30, and when we lead in worship on the last Sunday of each month. But a family is formed when we live together for 6 days and try to change a small part of the world.
Many thanks to the adults who selflessly gave up days of vacation to make choir tour happen. Without their support, nothing like this would ever be remotely possible.
(The normally chipper Chris Vardy washing dishes.)