A most ’Welcome’ collaboration benefits church justice programs
Middle Collegiate Church exploded in raucous celebration on Sunday evening, July 1, with a concert to announce the arrival of "Welcome", the first church-sponsored recording, a collaboration with Broadway veteran and singer/songwriter Tituss Burgess, also a member of the church.
All songs were written by Burgess and recorded by a choir of his colleagues. Burgess and Dionne McClain-Freeney, musical director of the church’s gospel choir, co-produced the recording. Many members of Middle’s East Village Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir joined in the live concert.
Songs from the CD were featured in the concert, which included high-octane performances that often had the jam-packed crowd of over three hundred on its feet. "We Are the Ones," a new video directed by filmmaker Shari Carpenter was also unveiled. Featured soloists in the video were Burgess, Alyson Palmer (of the band BETTY), and Broadway’s Jenny Powers.
Rev. Lewis urged the audience to join the movement that the music promised, by bringing the music and message of welcome beyond the church’s walls. Burgess, who also served as host of the evening, often seemed in awe of what was unfolding on the stage, even as he conducted and lent his vocal acrobatics.
"I knew it was going to be killer, that we would just blow the roof off the place," said McClain-Freeney after the concert. "Tituss has such joy and enthusiasm for what he does musically that he attracts people with a huge amount of light and enthusiasm." Soloists included Jarvis Derell, Kristina Nicole Miller, Allison Mickelson, and Broadway’s Marty Thomas, many of whom are also featured on the recording.
McClain-Freeney went on to say, "Middle’s vision is such a simple one: God loves you, God has healed you, now go out and heal the world. Music is the language that everybody can understand and this is the way that people will get it."
Burgess explained, "Middle Church cares about everyone and it’s not a surface level concern. It runs very deep, she stands on the side of justice."
"We can speak to people who thought the church was one way and they are going to find out that it is not," McClain-Freeney added. "This album is going to open doors in many ways and help to explain God in a way that they never heard before."
Middle Collegiate Church, under the leadership of Senior Minister Jacqueline Lewis since 2006 and her predecessor Rev. Gordon Dragt, has long been preaching welcome and diversity. Dragt performed same-sex commitment ceremonies from the 1980s onward, and last July, after New York legalized gay marriage, Lewis did a triple same-sex wedding ceremony during a church service. A typical Sunday service shows a blend of white, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and other ethnicities, and families both straight and gay.
In 2007, the church’s Consistory wrote and read a proclamation in support of gay marriage, which brought considerable heat to the church and Lewis from the umbrella denomination, the Reformed Church of American. Middle has also led on issues of racial justice, LGBTI justice, and homelessness, and took part in the Living Wage Campaign, Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Faith. Earlier this year, Middle was one of a handful of churches that received national news coverage for "Wear Your Hoodie to Church Sunday," in honor and memory of Trayvon Martin.
Burgess has had featured roles in Broadway’s "Guys and Dolls" and "The Little Mermaid" as well as "Jersey Boys" and "Good Vibrations," often performs in nightclubs, and released a solo recording, "Here’s to You," in 2006. He has an ongoing role in NBC’s "30 Rock."
All proceeds from the sale of the CD and digital tracks will support Middle’s social justice programs, which also include weekly distribution of meals to Thompson Square Park, bag lunches for the neighborhood’s financially challenged, a free clothing boutique for those in need, and a weekly Celebrate Life meal for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Go to the Middle Collegiate Church website to find more information about Middle Collegiate Church and to order a CD or digital track.