The Urban Carolers
Good Christian women rejoice!
In this age of political correctness, my friends and I decided to throw caution to the wind and sing Christmas carols in my neighborhood. We are an eclectic group of Christian women who have gathered together to sing, what is for us, the true meaning of Christmas in the timeless tradition of caroling. To go tell it over the hills and everywhere in the heart of downtown Omaha “that Jesus Christ is born.”
With time constraints among all of us, we didn’t have the luxury of a formal practice. So we appointed our group leader Joy Stevens, Women’s Chaplain of the Good News Jail Ministry, the task of “getting our Sister Act together” only an hour before curtain call. Consisting mainly of altos and a few brave sopranos—seven of us all together—we began to warm up our voices like violins. "Relax," I reminded them, "we're not giving a concert—we’re carolers!"
After squabbling like a bunch of school children over what songs to sing, we finally were able to reduce our long list of treasured carols down to five. “But we have to sing ‘Joy to the World!’” cried my long-time friend Gloria, active member of Life Church here in Omaha. We added one more to our repertoire. Kathy, a devoted veteran volunteer at the Douglas County Jail, demonstrated in her gentle soprano voice the proper way to sing “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Chaplain Joy kept us on track, on beat, and on the right notes. “What shall we call ourselves?” asked one of the gals. Glancing outside my window, staring at the tallest skyscraper in the Midwest across the street, I announced: “The Urban Carolers!”
We munched on appetizers and my famous homemade biscotti before embarking on our adventure. We donned festive scarfs and cradled matching red songbooks in our arms. Chaplain Joy prayed. Then we silently rode the elevator down to the main floor of my apartment building; each of us staring down at the floor secretly wondering if we’d lost our minds.
We began our singing debut at the food court located inside the building where my husband and I reside. “Don’t mess up ladies,” I whispered, “I have to live here after you leave!” Chaplain Joy sang out the first note. But what to our wonderful ears should appear: The beautiful sound of carolers! Oh my! Is that us making that beautiful sound? The acoustics in the grand historic Brandeis elevated our voices to a professional sound. Then our confidence increased even more when after singing our spirited rendition of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," pulled the Brandeis staff from their desks to appear outside their office door with cheery applause!
Well, that did it. We finished our Chosen Six full of self-confidence that we could actually pull this off! We marched out of the Brandeis and down to the corner of 16th & Farnam like seven Deputy Barney Fife’s. A woman stopped and took our picture, others waved and smiled, some even thanked us for our singing.
Now we were on a mission. Walking now as we sang, we caroled our way to the Douglas County Court House. A woman rushing up the court house steps ran over to us and began to sing along. Deb, a lay counselor in women’s ministries in our group, shared her red songbook with the excited stranger. We were singing the worshipful “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” when the woman joined us. I’ll never forget the joy on her face as she spontaneously sang with us, obviously drawn in by our Christmas spirit. I imagine it’s the same Christmas spirit that Charles Dickens wrote about so many years ago.
The wind began to whip at our songbooks, so we hurried inside the court house to warm up. A half-dozen-serious-looking officers greeted us. “Can we sing in the court house?” we asked, “we’re The Urban Carolers.” “Oh, carolers!” one officer said; the rest stared at us with their thumbs in their belts and legs apart. “This is government property and not allowed,” the officer went on to explain. He pointed us to the civil side of the court house as we all stood reverently under the building’s majestic dome; he encouraged us to try our caroling around the corner. “Merry Christmas!” the officers echoed, one-by-one, as we left the court house. “Merry Christmas!” we echoed back, “and Happy New Year!”
Inside the civil offices we descended on a lone officer sitting at a large circular desk. He heard Lula, a much called upon soloist for Salem’s Gospel Choir in our group, quietly humming in her beautiful contralto voice giving our a cappella sound some soul. “What have we got here?” he said, leaning back in his chair and grinning. “You gals look like you want to sing to me … but wait now, first let me make a call.” He hung up the phone –“Sorry ladies … it’s not allowed, it’s this new political correctness thing, you know – but I personally would have loved it.” Writing down something on a piece of paper, he handed it to Lula, “Here is the number you need to get permission for next year. And I’ll be sitting here waiting for you. And have a Merry Christmas!”
I reminded the women that our soup was waiting for us. So we sang merrily back to the Brandeis not caring if we had an audience or not. We just sang, this time for our own enjoyment. Ruby, who with husband Noel, pastor Calvary Lutheran Church, slid her arm in mine and whispered, “We’re having more fun than we should be having!” I agreed, and hugged her back.
Back in the food court, exhilarated and hungry, we asked someone to take our picture under the Christmas tree before heading up to our feast. A man walked over and thanked us for our caroling earlier in the court, and to share with us his personal beliefs about God with Chaplain Joy and how the songs had blessed him.
We ended our day in my apartment where our minestrone soup and homemade rolls awaited us. At the end of our meal, we relaxed with pecan streusel coffee cake and tea. Chaplain Joy prayed over our day. We all glowed with a job well done and a new vision for next year with brighter scarfs, permission slips, and a couple more sopranos.
I love caroling with my friends. I’ve made it a part of An Ideal Life. If you’re downtown next year during the Christmas season—look for us. We plan to make this an annual event. And if you need to—give into that muse tapping you on the shoulder to join in and sing along. We won’t mind. We’re The Urban Carolers.
God bless us everyone.