On a Personal Mission

It was wonderful to have Alison Beck with us on Sunday. Here, she reflects about Gospel Singing and church.

It’s been a real joy to lead the gospel-singing workshops with the lovely bunch from St John’s and St Mary’s over the last few months.

Growing up as a shy, pale, Church of England girl in the north-east of England during the 1980s, you won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t meet many gospel musicians in the flesh. In fact, my first real exposure to gospel music – like a lot of people my age, I think – came through watching Whoopi Goldberg and her singing nuns in the famous Sister Act films!

10 years ago, in London, I joined Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir. I have witnessed first-hand the impact that gospel music can have on people’s spiritual lives. Gospel singing certainly put me on the road from agnosticism to being the person of faith that I am today. And I’ve noticed that at the churches where the choir sings regularly – St James’s Piccadilly and Farm Street Catholic Church – the congregation size has grown significantly and steadily. People come up afterwards and say things like “that was the best Eucharist I’ve ever been a part of”. There’s just something about gospel music, I think…

I’m on a personal mission to share the joyful, soulful grooviness of contemporary gospel music with people who wouldn’t normally get a chance to experience it.

Why? Gospel music is inclusive – it’s (surprisingly?) easy to sing; you don’t need to be able to read music, and you don’t need fantastic literacy skills. It’s a fantastic way of reaching out to people on the fringes of church. I know; I used to be one of them. And, in my view, any church trying to follow the radical, bold, adventurous teachings of Jesus should think about being a little bit adventurous with its music within worship, too.

Recently, I’ve been developing the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir ‘toolkit’, resources for churches to use to create their own home-grown gospel choirs. It’s been very exciting for me to go into churches like yours and lead gospel-singing workshops with them.

Absolutely everyone is welcome to come to one of our Thursday gospel workshops.