A community of praise

OWOSSO — Virginia Gastin has a special reason to feel grateful this Thanksgiving.

Gastin, a member of the choir that performs at the annual community Thanksgiving service — set for 3 p.m. Sunday at Owosso Middle School — was knocked flat by a bacterial infection after last year’s first rehearsal. Her illness resulted in 12 surgeries and 14 weeks of rehabilitation, and could have killed her.

But she recovered so steadily her doctors were shocked. Gastin, 73, gives credit to God. She’s back in the soprano section, rehearsing songs of praise and thanksgiving that hit so close to home, it’s hard to get through them without tearing up.

“I’m doing good now. This community Thanksgiving is the one thing I don’t want to miss,” Gastin said. “I’m thankful for life, that God has given me another chance to do what I’m supposed to do.”

Gastin is one of 60 voices in the Owosso-Area Community Choir, representing 24 local churches, Protestant and Catholic. Denominational differences are swept aside, replaced by the common purpose of coming together to praise God.

“We’re all part of the family of believers,” said Lynn Webster, choir director, who founded Community Thanksgiving with 37 members, Gastin among them.

People of all religious faiths are invited to the hour-long, free event, hosted by the Owosso Area Ministerial Association. The “cover charge” is a donation of nonperishable grocery items that go to the Owosso Public Schools’ “Owosso Cares” project and end up in local food pantries.

Each year an offering is taken to benefit a local organization. This year the money is going to SafeCenter, an Owosso shelter for abused women and children. Previous recipients include the Salvation Army, Walls of Warmth, the Baby Pantry, Shiawassee Hunger Network, Zac Folka Project and Habitat For Humanity.

Since 1998, the group has given more than $40,000 to local charities, “providing considerable help to the community,” said Lt. Jonathan Tomayo, Ministerial Association treasurer.

Sunday’s musical program features soloists Susie Barker, Leonora Fruchey, Barb Olds, Mike Reath and Amy Welch. The Rev. John Miller, pastor at Oakley Community Church and president of the Ministerial Association in 1998, will play the role of narrator.

State Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, will give introductory remarks.

The Rev. Cal Emerson, former pastor at Northgate Wesleyan, will be singing tenor in the choir, something he’s done for at least 10 years.

“I keep coming back because it’s so encouraging to sing the songs Lynn and his wife Diana have picked out,” Emerson said. “They’re joyful, uplifting songs about God working in your life in times of trouble and how your perspective of life changes when you realize He’s in control and you praise Him, no matter what.”

Although the Community Choir performs only once a year, at the Thanksgiving service, members have become close. By all accounts the first rehearsal, in October, is like a family reunion, with people hugging each other in greeting.

They all have at least two things in common: faith in God and enjoyment of singing.

“I joined the choir because I love to sing and I love harmonies,” Brenda Lab said. “Being part of it makes me feel very uplifted and puts me in the mood for being thankful.”

Because Gastin’s church no longer has a choir, the community choir “gives me the opportunity to sing with one,” she said. “It’s neat to get together with people from other churches who sing.

“And it’s a wonderful way to give praise and thanksgiving to God, through music.”

Many people and organizations contribute to Community Thanksgiving: the Websters, event producers; Kirk Saunders, rehearsal sound technician; Ben Kitchen and Dennis Byers, sound technicians; Stronghold Quartet, PA/sound equipment; Owosso Kiwanis Club, bulletin distribution; Bob and Linda Samson, boxes of canned goods; Larry Severance, choir folders; Patty Wing of Sunnyside Florist, plants on stage; Gracepoint (Northgate) Wesleyan church, rehearsal site; Dick Stewart of We Print Everything, program printing; Bruckman Moving, riser assembly; Owosso Kiwanis and Shiawassee-Owosso Kiwanis clubs, ushers; Mike Reath, choir celebration dinner.

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