COH members fund ‘Baritenor Project’

If you sometimes hear strains of a better-than-expected hymn wafting through the air at the Cathedral of Hope, it’s probably not your imagination. Juan Rodriguez (baritone) and Aaron Alarcon (tenor) are both members of the COH … and both classically trained vocalists. Music is a passion for both.

But they are also equally passionate about the Little Blue Schools Project, a charity of the COH that seeks to better the community of Reynosa, Mexico, through its ministry. If only they could combine the two…

Of course, that’s exactly what they did. Rodriguez and Alarcon not only wanted to make music, they wanted to make it together, so they launched The Baritenor Project (drawn by combining their vocal ranges) to make a recording, proceeds of which are intended to benefit Little Blue Schools as well as the cathedral’s music ministry.

Getting launched took some money itself, though. That’s when the two began an online campaign through USAProjects.org, an online fundraising site akin to Kickstarter. Their goal was $6,500; last month, they closed the campaign having raised more than  $7,600.

Now of course comes the hard part: Recording the album. COH’s directed of television and media ministries, Jerry King, is working with the duo to secure the rights to the songs. They hope to begin recording soon.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Rev. Jo Hudson sends message to CoH members about staff cuts

The Rev. Jo Hudson

On Monday, Cathedral of Hope laid off 10 staff members, the equivalent of six full-time positions because of lower than expected income. Yesterday, the Rev. Jo Hudson sent members a letter explaining the reduction in force, which include voluntary pay cuts by senior staff.

A more detailed story will appear in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

Read the full letter below.

—  David Taffet

CoH raises funds for Little Blue Schools mission in Mexico

‘Substantial gift’ from Skyeward Bound Ranch puts event total near $20,000; money will help build new kitchen, classroom near Nopalera

CHECK PRESENTATION | The Rev. Dawson B. Taylor, executive minister of Cathedral of Hope, accepts a check from Jimmy Pockrus and Dalace-Skye Duvall of Skyeward Bound Ranch at the “Prawns And Praise” fundraising event for the Little Blue Schools program in Reynosa, Mexico. The money is the first gift of a multi-year commitment and will go toward building a kitchen and several school classrooms. (Phoebe Sexton/Cathedral of Hope)

FROM STAFF REPORTS
editor@dallasvoice.com

Officials with Cathedral of Hope of the United Church of Christ announced this week that the church raised nearly $20,000 with it’s recent “Prawns and Praise” benefit concert for CoH’s Little Blue Schools mission project in Reynosa, Mexico.

The total includes what church leaders called “a substantial gift” from Skyeward Bound Ranch, a non-profit charitable organization for special needs and terminally ill children.

The money will be used to build a new kitchen and a school classroom in the Nopalera area of Reynosa, a community of poor residents living along a drainage canal where there is no running water or electricity, church officials said.

CoH pastor the Rev. Jo Hudson said CoH volunteers began working on the Reynosa mission efforts 10 years ago, starting by building a 13×20-foot, one-room, tin-roofed building to serve as a school and community center. Since then, 10 additional building projects, such as restroom facilities and meeting rooms, have been completed in Reynosa.

The mission work in Reynosa is now referred to as “The Little Blue Schools” project and is administered by the CoH Miracles in Mission Ministry.

“We’re demonstrating how a community can come together, pooling resources and working side-by-side with folks of very different backgrounds, understandings and faith beliefs,” said Hudson. “We’re out to show Cathedral of Hope’s profound belief that Christianity is a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle to sign copies of book on LGBT hate crime victims at COH on Sunday

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle

From PR guru Kris Martin:

What: The Interfaith Peace Chapel hosts a lecture by the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle on his new book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims. The lecture will be followed by a DFW panel discussion and community dialogue on the violence and murder of Americans because of their sexual orientation or gender presentation.

Who: Stephen Sprinkle, author of Unfinished Lives, is changing the conversation on LGBTQ hate crimes and showing how bodies matter. Sprinkle is associate professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School, and theologian in residence at Cathedral of Hope. There will be a lecture, book signing and panel discussion, with a reception to follow.

When: Sunday, March 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Cost: Free of charge.

Where: Interfaith Peace Chapel , at the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ
5910 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas, TX  75235. http://www.interfaithpeacechapel.org

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Piazza leaving Dallas for Atlanta

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, who since 1987 has been a force in the gay faith community in North Texas, has accepted a position as pastor of Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta.

Accompanying Piazza will be his longtime executive assistant, David Plunkett.

“This all happened literally yesterday,” Plunkett said. “We got back from Atlanta at 2 this morning.”

Piazza stepped down as senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope several years ago and transitioned into the role of dean of the church. That affiliation ended last March, although Plunkett said many people still do not realize it (in part because Piazza and Plunkett still office at the Cathedral COH, where they work with the Center for Progressive Renewal and Hope for Peace and Justice).

“Last year was the first year in Rev. Piazza’s adult life when he was not pastoring a church,” Plunkett said. “He is very, very good at what he does now [teaching other clergy], but at heart, as anyone who has heard him on a Sunday in the pulpit, he’s a prophetic preacher.”

Plunkett described the Virginia-Highland Church as “a once-vibrant church in desperate need of revitalization.” Although not currently a predominantly gay church, Plunkett said it has a history of inclusiveness.

“It was Southern Baptist, but [got] kicked out of the denomination because they refused to dismiss a gay pastor” some years back, Plunkett said. Virginia-Highland is currently dual-affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the United Church of Christ (the same denomination as COH).

At first, Piazza will not be full time, but will continue his work with the CPR, which is based in Atlanta. Plunkett will be largely full time at the church. He has worked with Piazza for the past nine years, and will aid in the transition. The start date for the team will be March 1.

Plunkett, who has been active in the theater community, said leaving will be bittersweet for him as well. He grew up in Plano.

Plunkett said Piazza likely would not have an opportunity to deliver a farewell sermon in Dallas, even if asked.

More to come ….

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gospel according to gays

Tim Seelig and Cathedral of Hope put a queer twist on that old-time religion with the ‘Gay’ther Homecoming, a celebration of hymns and homos

M.M. ADJARIAN  | Contributing Writer mmadjarian@gmail.com

SAY  AMEN | Seelig, above, tapped dozens of gospel artists for his inaugural concert, including out singers Ray Boltz, below left, and Marsha Stevens, below right.

‘GAY’THER HOMECOMING
Cathedral of Hope,
5910 Cedar Springs Road.
Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. $15.
CathedralofHope.com.

………………………………….

Leave it to Tim Seelig to find a way to queer-up the straightest event.

The original Gaither Homecoming was started in 1991 in Nashville by gospel singer and impresario Bill Gaither.

“It’s a huge industry of straight gospel singers — I mean hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Seelig.

And that industry has not been gay-friendly. According to Seelig, too many talented LGBT gospel singers have been excluded from performing at events like the Gaither Homecoming. Many are not even allowed to sing in their own churches.

But there is no want of LGBT gospel music fans out there. So on Saturday, Art for Peace & Justice (which Seelig directs) and the Cathedral of Hope will present the first annual “Gay”ther Homecoming, a gala evening of Christian music and song. Proceeds will benefit the Interfaith Peace Chapel at the COH.

The show, the first of its kind in the nation, will feature 49 singers and six instrumentalists from across the country, singing solos and then joining each other — and the audience — to  sing hymns and gospel songs.

“The audience will know every single song performed,” says Seelig. “They will sing along, tap their feet, clap, and utter many ‘amens.’ I have no doubt there will be tears.”

“The initial idea [for the event] came from a staff member at the cathedral and was simply [intended] to host a celebration of LGBT musicians and their friends during gay Pride,” says Seelig. “It is not meant as a spoof or parody of the Gaither Homecoming industry; we just felt that by giving it that name, people would immediately know what to expect with very little explanation.”

It is, though, meant to be empowering for gay people of faith.

“Over the years, I have come in contact with literally hundreds of musicians who cut their teeth in the church but were completely cast aside once they came out,” he observes. “There is no room for them at the table of main-line religion. Period.”

Seelig faced similar discrimination when he came out in the 1980s, but has since achieved international acclaim as a singer, educator and chorale conductor. He’s also brought to Dallas, through A4P&J, speakers such as Maya Angelou and recently a performance of Terence McNally’s Corpus Christi.

His latest project has two aims. The first is to offer LGBT gospel musicians a welcoming space where they can let their talents shine. And the second is “to bring the audience to a place full of wonderful memories of their own journey with religion and, more specifically, the music of their youth.”

Among those slated to perform at the “Gay”ther Homecoming are LGBT gospel luminaries as Ray Boltz, Marsha Stevens, Mark Hayes, Susie Brenner and Pattie Clawson Berry. Local artists joining the line-up include Gary Floyd, Amy Stevenson, Danny Ray, Lonnie Parks and Shelly-Torres West, along with three LGBT gospel groups: Redeemed, Out 4 Joy and Voices of Hope. The show will be filmed for future DVD release.

“Our hope is that this will be something that LGBT people all over will purchase and enjoy,” says Seelig. “There are so many people all over the world who feel disenfranchised. This is just one way that the Cathedral of Hope and Art for Peace & Justice can help them know they are not forgotten.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens