Faith & Family: Choirs combine for Christmas

Published 12:08 am Saturday, December 13, 2014

By Morgan Mizell

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — The numbers of some church choirs are not large enough to fully support the vocal demand of a Christmas cantata, but that is not stopping some area churches that are on a mission to make a joyful noise this holiday season.

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The combination of Cliff Temple and Stanton Baptist choirs began 12 years ago with the leadership of ministers of music, Donnie McIlwain and Steve Strebeck.

Last year, they included Washington Baptist Church, and this year, Calvary Baptist is coming on board as well.

“We really had a situation with low numbers,” McIlwain said. “We joined the choirs together with the philosophy of the more the merrier, and we are able to give all of the churches a cantata.”

Carl Smith, pastor of Washington Baptist, began in music ministry at Morgantown Baptist, but later answered the call to preach.

For him, the choir combination is all about fellowship and the inclusion of all.

Smith says that he has seen this event bring in friends and family who become members of the church.

“I can not tell you how many times I have had members of the congregation ask me to pray for someone they know who is un-churched,” Smith said. “It is a blessing when you look up at an event like this and see that person in the crowd.”

Both, Strebeck and McIlwain, have lead music for a number of years and desire to see music programs grow in their churches and all over the state.

McIlwain began at Cliff Temple over 20 years ago after the minister of music left.

“We came in on Easter Sunday and found a note on the pulpit,” McIlwain said. “I have been leading the music since that day.”

His involvement with the music has grown over the years and so has his desire to see growth in that area for other churches.

“I have long wanted to go to some of the small, rural churches where there is no music program and find someone who has an interest,” McIlwain said. “You would be surprised at the number of churches around us that have no programs and I would love to see that change.”

All agree that music is an essential part of the worship service and they are happy to share their time and talent by leading the music in their churches.

Strebeck also has a long history of leading music through the years.

“I feel I am where God wants me to be,” Strebeck said. “I have been leading the music since I was 18, and I enjoy it.”

Mickey Alexander is the pastor of Calvary Baptist, but he will be involved in the cantata as one of the male soloists. Each music leader will lead the cantata at their church; however, McIlwain will lead at both Cliff Temple and Calvary.

This year the combined choirs will perform a more contemporary cantata entitled, “Born is the King.”

There is a mix of traditional music mixed in with some new arrangements that they hope will add a refreshing feel to the program. While the sound may be a little different, the message is the same.

Everyone in the community is welcome to attend any or all of the services Sunday, and there is no charge.

They will begin performances at Cliff Temple at 10 a.m. They will perform at Calvary at 11:15 a.m. They will perform at Washington Baptist at 5 p.m. and Stanton Baptist at 6:15 p.m.