By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor
Seven days a week, volunteers at the Franciscan Church of the Assumption make, bag and distribute free lunches to anyone who comes to the church’s food pantry, no questions asked. The thousands of sandwiches handed out each month are a testament to the church’s mission of recognizing every person as a sister or bother in Christ and renewing Syracuse’s northside community.
Outreach Ministries of the Franciscan Church of the Assumption, the umbrella under which the church’s outreach activities fall, also provides food parcels, legal aid, medical services and numerous fellowship programs to the neighborhood. The organization seeks to address the basic needs of the community in real and immediate ways, improving the quality of life of its underserved members by filling the cracks in the system through which they can sometimes fall.
Yet the Ministries and the parish are not charged solely with serving the neighborhood’s poor. Rather, they are committed to building and strengthening the community as a whole. That means drawing people from all faiths, from all neighborhoods and from all stations in life together for the greater good.
And what better for bridge-building than music-making?
Two years ago, Bob Costa and other members of Assumption’s music ministry helped to expand the Arts at Assisi program at Assumption. Once a program dedicated to creating artwork, Arts at Assisi is now musically-oriented as well.
“We thought we could use our love of music to make more and better use of our beautiful church, generate a new income stream for the Ministries [through voluntary donations at the events] and strengthen our community, all at the same time,” said Costa.
During 2009 and 2010, Arts at Assisi hosted four concerts at the church, including a patriotic sing-along and an appearance by Le Moyne College’s vocal jazz ensemble, the Jazzuits.
“They brought in some income, which was wonderful,” Costa said, adding that the events were well-attended by parishioners. “But what we really wanted to start doing was building community relationships.”
So when the idea of a gospel concert was suggested, Costa immediately got to work finding a local church choir to perform. Bethany Baptist Church in East Syracuse seemed like a great fit.
The church’s adult choir is made up of 25 vocalists and instrumentalists and is led by longtime director Robert Short Jr. They have performed at many churches and events in the Syracuse area, but this is their first collaboration with a Catholic church.
“[The concert] is a special opportunity for fellowship and to connect with Christians outside our denomination,” Short said. “We’re so thankful to Bob Costa and the members of Assumption for having the vision to go beyond the normal boundaries and take a leap of faith and ask us to come.”
Costa shared the sentiment, saying, “We’re so excited and pleased Bethany Baptist accepted our invitation. We are really looking forward to the performance.”
The Bethany Baptist choir will perform 13 songs at the concert, including traditional and contemporary gospel numbers, some spirituals, and an anthem. About half of the songs will be original compositions by Short and Dr. Joan R. Hillsman, who worked together to co-produce the choir’s recently-released live performance album, “Finally.” Short said he is looking forward to bringing a genre of music to a community that may be unfamiliar with it.
A social will follow the concert, during which Bethany Baptist pastor Rev. Phil Manuel Turner and Assumption rector Father Brad Milunski, OFM Conv., will participate in a public dialogue and discuss the commonalities of their ministries. The concert will also be part of the annual recognition reception for supporters of the Outreach Ministries.
Costa and Short said the response to the concert’s promotion in their faith communities has been positive, and they both anticipate a good turnout from their respective churches. Costa, however, is hopeful that music lovers from all over Syracuse will come out for the concert.
“Our goal is to enrich the spiritual and cultural lives of the entire community,” he said.
The Arts at Assisi gospel concert featuring the Bethany Baptist Church adult choir and instrumentalists will take place at the Franciscan Church of the Assumption, 812 North Salina St., Syracuse, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16. Admission is free; voluntary donations will benefit Oureach Ministries of the Franciscan Church of the Assumption. For more information, call the church at (315) 422-4833.