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Church in transition helps people in transition find their voices

Having sold its 36-year-old building, the 121-year-old Covenant Christian Church sought a new style of ministry.

“We realized our church was not the building but about being followers of God,” said Julie Banks, moderator the last four years and a member since 1975 when she was in high school.

The church is now renting space on the third floor of the Ben Burr Office Building at 5915 S. Regal.  It has an untraditional space for the church’s praise worship.  Its electronic musical instruments, audio-visual equipment and a 16-track recording studio are also conducive to its new musical outreach to homeless people and youth.

Voiceless Choir

Redhawk Rice-Sauer sings with The Voiceless

The move to this transitional space with a three-year lease has opened the congregation to envision how to become a “heart church,” Julia said.

The pastor, Michael (Redhawk) Rice-Sauer, came to the church in 1995 in response to the congregation’s desire for change.

When he went into the community to help the church find its ministry in the world, he found hungry, hurt, homeless people, and people feeding, giving homes, reading to and clothing them. 

“The church decided to give voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless and sight to the blind.  We want to be God’s presence, creating relationships with people in need,” he said.

Such relationships are developing through The Voiceless, a choir of homeless people he leads and through “HeartSongs,” an annual concert the church promotes.

The concert includes The Voiceless, local musicians and a community choir, sharing in song the stories of “the least among us,” the homeless people who are gaining a voice through songs composed to tell their stories.

In addition to composing many of those songs, Redhawk recruited songwriters to meet with homeless people, hear their stories and compose songs to share them.

“HeartSongs raises consciousness so people know they are part of each other,” he said.

The choir began in partnership with the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP), first rehearsing at St. Ann’s Catholic Church and meeting Monday evenings at the Salvation Army, beginning with a meal. 

The Voiceless has given concerts at advocacy events, the CROP Hunger Walk and other nonprofits and church events.

Redhawk helped them record two CDs, “The Voiceless Among Us” and “The Voiceless Messengers.”   Proceeds go to help SNAP fund programs for homeless people.

“Voiceless people gain power when they gain their voice,” Redhawk said.  “How we treat prisoners, the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless and other ‘least’ is a true measure of who we are.  The Gospel is about justice.”

Julie said:  “We often feel powerless to affect change, create justice, honor the least, give voice to the voiceless, but we can do it by taking tiny steps.

“HeartSongs shatters the image of the homeless being men standing on street corners.  The average homeless person is nine years old, and most homeless people are families,” she said.

“The Voiceless puts a human face on homelessness,” Redhawk said, describing himself as a bard or troubadour who “sings about souls,” telling stories of human beings living on the edge.

“Many people don’t see homeless people because they choose not to see them,” Julie said.

The song, “Gone,” sings the experience of a mother, overextended by working two jobs to earn enough to survive, giving in to someone who offered her meth.  Then she lost her home, her jobs, her children and everything she worked for. 

“Eventually she straightened out her life and now volunteers with us,” Redhawk said.

“When you take a story that is part of your life and share it with me, it takes camp in me and becomes part of me,” he said.  “In the ‘least’ we find God’s blessings.  Words and music are powerful,” he said.

For information, call 448-1311.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © June 2007