Song and Scripture: Traveling pastors bring their message to United Methodist Church

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Carrying on a tradition that began in the 1930s, the Chi Rho Singers, a group of ministers in the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church, will present a concert at the Antes Fort United Methodist Church later this month. The event is set for 7 p.m., April 27.

The history of the group can be traced back to a time when the Pennsylvania Conference of the United Brethren in Christ had what they called “Singing Ministers,” according to the Rev. Alison Grove, a pastor from Lock Haven, a member and business manager of the group.

These ministers would sing during regular services Sunday mornings, and then in special services. The early groups were comprised of all male voices, because at that time women were not permitted in the ministry. Now, the members of the singers, which numbers 35 to 45, have women joining them, which Grove noted, gives the choir a more balanced sound.

A love of singing brings the group together.

“We love the fellowship, a chance to get together,” said Grove. “It is connectional. The concerts connect us as a church.”

“It allows us to be in ministry in a different form and fashion than leading on Sunday mornings,” she added.

At one time, Grove said, there were several ministers’ choirs, but now she thinks there are just two across the entire United States, and they are both in Pennsylvania, one in the Susquehanna Conference and one in the western part of the state. Every year at the end of their concert season, the Chi Rho Singers get together with the other group for a concert together usually in the area of Altoona or Johnstown.

The local group, the Chi Rho Singers, tours throughout their conference from September through May. Prior to their first concert, the group gets together at a two-day retreat to rehearse. Their usual routine when preparing for a concert is for the group to gather at 1 p.m. the day of the performance to practice.

Grove said churches usually provide a dinner before the concert, which begins at 7 p.m. and lasts about an hour. There is no charge for the concert, but a free-will offering is taken, which is divided between the host church and the choir which uses it to purchase music. Members of the group are both active and retired pastors and they pay their own travel costs.

Their repertoire consists of a variety of traditional, sacred and contemporary Christian music, Grove said. At the present time the choir is conducted by the Rev. Joleen Willis, of West Side United Methodist Church, Clearfield.