First Covenant Church in St. Paul hosted a three-day Gospel Music Workshop on August 9-11, that was free and open to anyone who wanted to learn how to sing and perform this soulful style of Christian worship.
Brandi S. Sanders and her husband Pastor Leslie X. Sanders, both on staff at First Covenant Church of St. Paul came up with the idea to bring the first Gospel Music Workshop to their multi-ethnic St. Paul church. People from four very different Twin Cities churches attended the workshop, which ended with a final concert in front of an audience of 200 people and a livestream audience of 200 more people online.
“Gospel Music is a cultural music, it is a very big part of the African-American church tradition, but for the intercultural, multi-cultural church, gospel music is up-and-coming,” said Brandi S. Sanders.
Sanders says First Covenant Church in St. Paul has a diverse population of Hmong, Hispanic, African-American and Liberian members, and many of them attended the gospel workshop.
“Gospel music originally comes from a place of pain and suffering and speaks a message of victory and overcoming, and I think people can relate to that, people need that,” said Sanders.
As many immigrant cultures make the Twin Cities home, the church landscape is also changing. At Roots Covenant Church in the Hamline/Midway-area of St. Paul, their congregation is made up of a mixture of Asian, White, Hispanic and Black worshippers.
Mykou Thao, the worship leader at Roots Covenant attended the gospel music workshop to explore different types of music. She said she’d love to bring the heartfelt, call-and-response style of music to Roots’ Sunday morning worship service.
“I would love to incorporate gospel music, and traditional music in different languages at our church because we believe this is what the Kingdom of God looks like,” said Thao.
Sanders believes incorporating gospel music into worship sets is valuable to all cultures because it incorporates a theology of suffering that is so central to gospel music.
“This music touches souls and people are so blessed by the music, passion and energy of gospel music. It is something that is missing, it breaks-down walls, mends broken relationships and racial divisions,” said Sanders.
Brenton Haack, the worship leader at Abbey Way Covenant Church in Northeast Minneapolis, attended the workshop and says it’s beneficial to learn how to worship in solidarity with others, even if you’re not experiencing the same suffering.
“Even if the prayers of gospel music are not specific to our prayers at that moment, it’s somebody’s prayer and we’re joining in that larger prayer, because we’re a part of the larger body of Christ,” said Haack.
The simple, repetitive nature of gospel music impressed both Haack and Thao, as they visited First Covenant Church.
“You are repeating many of the lines over and over, so you are able to worship and let go of everything else. You don’t have to think about the next line or words, you are able to sing your heart out, and let go. There’s no barrier between you and the Spirit, you’re just worshiping,” said Thao.
Haack said in comparing traditional hymns which are very wordy and theologically-based he noticed many gospel songs were simple with a few parts that singers would build on.
“You can feel that gospel music comes from suffering and crying out. There is more to the song than the content of the words (like traditional hymns), gospel music is more about how you sing it,” said Haack.
Brandi S. Sanders says she was impressed that participants from all walks of life caught the vision, and plans to help First Covenant Church host another gospel music workshop next year.