A predominantly white choir in Seattle has built relationships with multi-ethnic communities and raised funds for the needy in the past 10 years by singing African-American gospel music. Gospel music, through its message and interactive call-and-response nature, opened a door.
Since its inception, the University Presbyterian Church (UPC) Gospel Choir, located near the University of Washington, has sung with and worked alongside many multi-ethnic congregations throughout the Seattle area. “There is a need to build bridges. Establishing a gospel choir gave us the platform for people of all walks of life to come together and not only sing together, but have a relationship with people they might not have ever met before and become friends,” said Pastor Allen Belton, who co-founded the choir. “It has been an honor, privilege and great opportunity to show the power of gospel music to the singer and the listener. After all, gospel music is the foundation for popular music in the U.S.” For five years, the UPC Gospel Choir hosted an annual gathering of congregations from a wide range of neighborhoods—downtown Seattle, Queen Anne, Tukwilla, the University District, and Rainier Valley (also called Seattle’s “Neighborhood of Nations”) to build cross-community relationships and help families during the economic recession. This collaboration—called “In It Together”—raised more than $30,000 during its first year to help families pay for rent, utilities, and food. “The UPC Gospel Choir has been a genuine partner in our efforts to get support to some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Reverend Harvey Drake, Senior Pastor of the Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. “Working to address those who struggle in itself is work, but doing it while singing foot-stomping, toe-tapping gospel music makes it so much easier. Singing alongside the UPC Gospel Choir and its director, Elias Bullock, has been a true delight and something I always look forward to.”
In 2011, as a no-audition choir, the UPC Gospel Choir won second place in the Gospel Fest competition between Seattle-area gospel choirs. The UPC Gospel Choir will celebrate its tenth anniversary by singing with other northwest gospel musicians at the forty-fourth annual Northwest Folklife Festival, one of the largest free-admission folk festivals in the country.