How can they keep from singing?

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | November 21, 2013 | 0 Comments

Basilica Threshold Singers offer gift of song to the seriously ill and dying

From left, Amanda Laugerman, Shelly Brandl, Ruth Gaylord and Janet Grove of the Threshold Singers practice at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis Nov. 13.   Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Amanda Laugerman, Shelly Brandl, Ruth Gaylord and Janet Grove of the Threshold Singers practice at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis Nov. 13. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Several months ago, 15 members of the Basilica of St. Mary choir filled Mary Sue Dobbin’s St. Paul living room with the sound of Christian songs and hymns. It wasn’t a social gathering or prayer service but rather a visit meant to encourage healing and peace through song.

Representing the Basilica’s Threshold Singers ministry, Basilica choir members volunteer to sing hymns and songs to parishioners and their loved ones and friends who are dying or living with serious illness.

“There was a holiness about it that was very uplifting,” said Dobbin, a parishioner of St. Cecilia in St. Paul who is blind. “They were good singers and the music was lovely and the people were so delightful. They were all very friendly, and it was a glorious experience.”

Sacred moments

Recognizing the power of music to connect and move souls, groups of two or more Basilica Threshold Singers visit the sick and dying in their homes, hospitals, hospices or nursing homes and sing for up to 30 minutes in unison, solo or harmony. One of many threshold singing groups nationwide, the Basilica’s ministry is unique because it focuses primarily on sacred music and hymns, according to Teri Larson, choral music director.

The Basilica Threshold Singers is a new ministry that very few communities are able to offer, said Cathy Edwards, caring ministries coordinator.

“We, like many communities, already have in place the ability to pray with people who are unable to be here on our premises,” she said. “We have Communion ministers, ordained ministers who visit, [and] listeners who visit and are happy to pray with people, so that already exists. This is an incredible new option for offering a different ministry to people who are dying.”

The idea for the ministry developed as parishioner and choir member Ruth Gaylord spoke with Larson last year. Gaylord experienced threshold singing when she suffered from ovarian cancer 13 years ago and also with a dying friend.

“It made me just much more in tune with the dying process, with hospice, those processes,” she said. “Since then I’ve been retired so I’m more in contact with people who are in those kinds of situations.”

Larson and Gaylord decided that the ministry should involve the Basilica’s 90-member choir. Half the choir members have expressed a desire to participate.

“It’s kind of been thought of as an outshoot of the Basilica choir because we’re already there rehearsing this body of people that knows some repertoire, and so we’re trying to start with that,” Larson said.

The Basilica Threshold Singers have sung three or four times in private homes and the recipients of their ministry have been touched by it, Gaylord said. “Song is moving,” she said. “I think in all the circumstances people were very moved emotionally and spiritually hopefully.”

However, the singers’ visits are not performances and they don’t charge for them, Gaylord said. “We come with gentle blessing to open hearts, quiet fears and bring light to all who are present, including family members.”

As of 2012, there were roughly 100 U.S. and Canadian chapters of the Threshold Choir, a network of primarily women’s a cappella choirs who “sing for and with those at the thresholds of life.” Threshold Choir, established in 1990, is not sectarian.

The Basilica Threshold Singers, on the other hand, focus on Christian music, such as simple hymns, and refrains by the Taize Community and liturgical composer John Bell, Larson said.

Comforting hearts

The time when someone is gravely ill or near death is sacred, Larson said, and friends and loved ones often don’t know what to say. Music can bring something to those moments, Larson said.

Edwards added, “There is a quietness and a gentleness and just a deep presence of the Spirit being there as this amazing thing is happening, that comes through song.”

With their gift of song, the Basilica Threshold Singers hope to comfort and connect hearts, Gaylord said.

“When someone is in the dying process they may want music in harmony or they may want a soft refrain of blessing like ‘Calm Me Lord, As You Calmed the Storm’ or ‘Be Still My Soul’ or perhaps simply, ‘May the Lord Bless You and Keep You.’ Just a simple refrain like that with everyone laying hands on the sick person is just it — everything.”

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Category: Senior Services