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CenturyMen sing their way through New York

NEW YORK (BP)–A hundred men in tuxedos likely would turn a few heads in most towns. But not New York City. The CenturyMen — a 100-voice, all-male choir of Southern Baptists — used buses, trains and subways to maneuver through the city, but hardly drew a casual glance from New Yorkers.

“Only in New York could 96 men in tuxes move around and not get noticed,” said one of those men, Lee Hinson, assistant professor of church music for Midwestern Seminary.

But the tour might not have happened, if not for the determination of the men in the choir. Scheduled for October 1-9, the tour was to include stops in New York City, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond and Willamsburg, Va. It had been planned for two years, and CenturyMen president Paul Clark said that in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack, the men expressed commitment instead of fear.

“Initially, I had questioned whether the guys would go, flying in from all over the country, but it was a momentary lapse of faith,” said Clark, worship and music specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

“Instead, there was a stronger determination than ever to go there and declare the gospel in song.

“The timing, indeed, was providential.”

Hinson agreed, saying the timing couldn’t have been better for singing the gospel message in New York and Washington.

“We sang to a lot of lost people, and we also sang on the steps of the Capitol to a number of representatives,” Hinson said. “There was not a huge crowd there because of security, but the experience was moving to me because I realized that had that fourth plane not gone down in Pennsylvania, that the building behind me flying the American flag might not have been there.”

Hinson pointed out that the CenturyMen often sing in places Southern Baptists don’t normally go. For example, the group sang in an off-Broadway gospel show and a couple of minutes on the CBS “Early Show.”

“I believe the audience of the off-Broadway show sensed that it wasn’t just music to us — it was the gospel,” Hinson said. “We weren’t just singing about a sentiment, we were singing something we believed.”

Traveling around the city was complicated because of constantly changing barricades in Manhattan streets, but it ended up providing opportunities to sing in subways and other opportunities to witness about Jesus Christ.

“The song, ‘Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,’ caused subway riders’ faces to light up, and many applauded,” Hinson said. “That kind of thing happened all of the time. We had never sung on a subway car before.”

One night, a few CenturyMen got close to Ground Zero and sang for the rescue workers.

“They were spotted by a news crew and made the local late night New York City news,” Hinson said.

Another small ensemble of men sang at a fire station down the street from the studio where they spent 12 hours recording a new CD.

Hinson said it was a unique time to be in New York. “People were very open to talk about spiritual things and even open to hearing the gospel,” he said. “We were constantly having conversations with people.”

The CenturyMen’s appearance on the CBS “Early Show” also resulted in several calls to the station requesting information about the group.

The CenturyMen is an audition-only male choir made up mostly of Southern Baptist music ministers. Their last recording was nominated for a Dove Award.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: THE CENTURYMEN.

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  • Stacey Hamby