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Posted on Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 10:28 a.m.

Unity, diversity themes for 20th annual Gospelfest

By Roger LeLievre

Gospelfest, an annual interfaith event that mixes workshops, worship and a concert, will mark its 20th season Saturday.

“It’s really two events in one,” explained Jean Wilson, director of the One Voice Gospel Choir in at Saline’s St. Paul United Church of Christ. “It’s a half-day gospel choir workshop and in the evening it’s a concert. … It offers a lot of opportunities for some new learning and some open-your-eyes kind of really terrific, fun music.”



  • Who: Zion Lutheran Church, New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, Ann Arbor Vineyard, Bethlehem United Church of Christ and St. Paul United Church of Christ/One Voice Gospel Choir.
  • What: Annual interfaith event, now in its 20th year, offers afternoon mass choir workshop for interested singers and a public concert in the evening.
  • Where: Bethlehem United Church of Christ, 423 S. Fourth Ave.
  • When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 10.
  • How much: Concert is free. Workshop fee is $15. Info:
Gospelfest will be held at Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor. Several gospel choir groups, a brass ensemble, a variety of instrumental musicians and a Christian dance group are among those expected to perform at the concert portion of the event.

According to its Web site, Gospelfest, established in 1992, “is a cross-cultural music ministry celebrating unity and fellowship among all who love our God.” Besides Wilson, the event will feature as directors this year Rob Meyer (Zion Lutheran Church), James L. Newby IV (New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church), Shaun Garth Walker (Ann Arbor Vineyard) and Geoff Stanton (Bethlehem United Church of Christ).

The themes, Wilson said, are unity and diversity.

“We let the music do the speaking—there’s no preaching that’s involved in this. The music is what really carries the message, and the message more and more is about unity and celebrating diversity. We have wonderful diversity to share with one another, but we have to remember that we are all the children of the same God,” she explained.

The first few Gospelfests were in Saline, Wilson said, then they alternated between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The goal was to bring together the black and white communities, form friendships and to share and work on gospel music.

“The whole idea was to bring in directors from a variety of different churches to teach whatever their version of gospel music was. Some of us who are more white-Christian were picking up contemporary things that had a gospel flair to it, while the black churches could bring in the traditional black gospel. It is great because they started teaching us things by rote, when our training has always been learning by the written notes and words.”

Over the years the event has evolved, added Wilson.

“We have people who’ve developed 20-year friendships because of this. ... We just pull in as many people as we can so people can get a real taste of a variety of directors and music.”

According to Wilson, Gospelfest’s theme is emphasized by “Unity,” a song that appears on the program every year.

“It’s a text from the Bible that says ‘Behold how good and and how pleasant it is when brethern can dwell together in unity.’ It really celebrates the fact that we are children of the same God, no matter what our faith is.”