Relationships underlie successful interfaith concert in Nebraska

September 26, 2018
Relationships underlie successful interfaith concert in Nebraska

How did a gospel music workshop and concert succeed in the small, predominantly white city of Hastings, Nebraska — with about 40 singers from several faith communities swaying, clapping and harmonizing on songs they learned together in a few hours?

“Building partnerships is absolutely critical,” say Chad Dumas and Dawn Vincent Dumas, members of the local Baha’i community. “We know these [churches’] choir directors, and their choir members made up the vast majority of the choir.”

Eric Dozier leads participants of the Interfaith Choral Festival on June 9 during a rehearsal for the song “Great Day” at the high school in Hastings, Nebraska. Photo by Amy Roh/Hastings Tribune

It helped to bring in Eric Dozier of Tennessee as director for the all-day event June 9. He’s led gospel workshops in many places, with the intention of “drawing people into an experience, making myself, my culture and my music known to them. When they are themselves with me, we find common ground, and move on from there,” he was quoted as saying in a Hastings Tribune article afterward (read the article with a video of the music).

One great result, the Dumases say, was a feeling of greater unity: “One participant reflected that even though the choir was not diverse in terms of race, it was diverse in terms of views. They mentioned how there were liberals and conservatives, and how we all sang in unity and agreed wholeheartedly with the ideas of oneness and the nobility of human beings.”

In fact, the Tribune article shared a church music director’s observation that, in his experience, it was “the first time so many denominations have formally joined voices on a project.”  

The seed for the event came from Chad Dumas’ service as an elected delegate to the U.S. Baha’i National Convention in April 2017, where considerable consultation was focused on finding creative ways of sharing the Baha’i vision of a unified and just society.

He and his wife consulted and brainstormed, and in August “Chad woke one morning with a clear vision to host a Hastings Interfaith Choral Festival,” the couple shares.

Why a concert? “I was a music teacher, so, yes, I have that background,” says Chad Dumas. “I’m not sure how much that influenced this, though, as I haven’t been in a classroom for nearly 15 years now. I really think it was Baha’u’llah guiding the vision through a dream — having woken up with such a clear idea that we needed to do this.”

Still, a foundation had to be in place before that kind of idea could get enough support to get dozens of people involved. In this case, Chad Dumas had been building relationships for years with the directors of church choirs.

Because of my role as an administrator in the public schools, I had worked with the choir directors” who led school as well as church choirs, he says. “This was just a natural next step working together.

“Plus, Dawn and my work with the founding and ongoing leadership with the Hastings Multicultural Association was key, since many of the circles of people cross each other.”

Doors, then, were open for the Dumases to consult with choir directors on how this might be organized. They found partners from one Presbyterian and two United Methodist churches. Once the group collectively gave the green light, Dozier was engaged to lead the event. Much as with workshops he has led in cities across the globe, the plan was for participants to learn together about the gospel music tradition, rehearse gospel songs, then perform them the same afternoon.

“In the meantime,” say the Dumases, “one choir director, from First Presbyterian Church, talked to his leadership and they offered to pay Eric’s honorarium for the day.” That director also invited Dozier to speak to the congregation on Sunday morning, and he accepted.

From there it was all about implementation: advertising and publicity; arranging for a space, equipment and food; printing programs, etc.

Now several participants are asking about making the concert ongoing. A few have inquired about other activities initiated by the Baha’i community.

All this is music to the ears of Chad and Dawn Vincent Dumas. “Some people were highly skeptical about the Baha’is hosting this,” they reflect. “Now we have laid a foundation where people know that we won’t be proselytizing, and future interfaith activities have an opportunity to build from this.”

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