Praising God through song

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When Father Horace ("Tuck") Grinnell celebrates the Arlington Diocese's healing Mass at a different parish each month, the New Spirit Singers (NSS) are there beside him to provide music of comfort, hope and reconciliation - a healing ministry joined nearly three years ago by the choir that first came together in 1972 at Holy Spirit Parish in Annandale.

"One of the greatest blessings of the Arlington Healing Ministry is the participation of the New Spirit Singers at the Masses," said Father Grinnell, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church, who has led the ministry for 20 years. "When I am praying with people for healing, I find the songs the choir is singing become part of my prayer and part of the healing. Many people have told me that they have experienced healing through the music at the Mass and during the healing prayer itself.

"When we asked if anyone wanted to join the choir, people immediately stepped forward," he said. "That shows the attractiveness of the community and the ministry of the choir."

Some choir members have been with the group almost from its beginning, while other members joined recently. The NSS participated in a weekly parish Mass for 34 years, and the choir enthusiastically accepted Catherine Griffin's invitation to provide music for the monthly healing Masses.

"In my search (for a new choir) I was put in touch with a much-admired group that might be available," said Griffin, who is the healing ministry's administrator. "As has always been our experience, the Holy Spirit was in charge, and the New Spirit Singers agreed to join us. They have added a beautiful new dimension to the Arlington Healing Ministry."

The new ministry is a good fit for the choir, whose members say that the healing is not just for the congregations but also for those in the music ministry. Sometimes their problems and old resentments seem to disappear and they feel healed by the end of the service. They are gratified when their music touches someone in a specific way, as when a woman admitted that one of the songs made her stop focusing on her troubles and instead reflect on all the good she had in her life.

Traveling to a different parish each month - from Culpeper to Arlington to Leesburg and everywhere in between - coping with varying sound systems and choir spaces, and hauling amplifiers and equipment requires flexibility and commitment. But it brings special rewards.

"It's not often that a parish choir can look at the congregation and see that the people are fully and emotionally engaged in the music," said Kathy Getz, NSS director. "Yet that happens with this ministry almost every month."

Outside of Mass, the choir welcomes new members, hopes to play a parish Christmas Mass again someday, and works hard during the weekly rehearsals to add music and keep the repertoire fresh. The 22 choir members say the uplifting, scripturally based music has more meaning and relevance for them than most organ-based, traditional hymns.

"The music that we do in NSS just feels right," said Rick Stevens, lead guitarist. "NSS takes the music seriously enough to attract and retain decent talent but not so serious as to organize the fun out of the group. We're a prayerful group of people that deeply care for each other and we praise God through humble song."

Choir members value the sense of belonging, support and warmth from each other. They believe they matter to the congregations. And most significantly, they find deep satisfaction in the sense of helping others in the parishes where they minister.

Greenley is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010