Heavy duty Christmas carols

12 Dec 2008

By The Record

With the visit of a choir made up of homeless and dejected members of society, Lyn Barker of Mercedes college says that this year’s Christmas preparations have been worthy of rememberance.            

Two Mercedes College students hold copies of street publication ‘The Big Issue’ with a member of the Spirit of the Streets Choir. Photo: Lyn Barker

The Mercedes College Advent liturgy is always a moving end-of-year event. This year it was an unforgettable, life changing occasion.
Catholic schools work hard to be inclusive and as we are an inner city girls’ high school our girls are aware of some of the problems faced by the more marginalised members of society.
Welcoming the Spirit of the Streets Choir to our celebration, the girls not only heard some wonderful singing from the choir but experienced a real exchange of affection and understanding.
Songs were personally introduced by choir members who matter-of-factly shared their stories of addiction, childhood abandonment, and homelessness.
This sounds heavy, but somehow on a very human level, there was a connection, and it was mutual.
Some choir members were moved to tears by the standing ovation, the cheering, the singing and clapping along and the respectful enthusiasm of the girls.
The Spirit of the Streets Choir was originally the Big Issue Choir, named after the magazine that homeless people sell in business districts throughout the country.
The name was changed to make it more inclusive of other people who were homeless, long term unemployed, socially excluded, suffering from substance abuse or with a history of mental illness. The choir is essentially for the people who do not get a seat at the table of conventional society, the people who are excluded and vulnerable and who require the non-judgmental social interaction which is embodied in the choir. After the singing, the girls came to chat and be photographed with choir members. Girls and staff were given the opportunity to buy the Big Issue from choir members, who then joined staff for a special morning tea with home-made food.
Interspersed throughout the liturgy, the enactment of the Christmas story of Joseph and the very pregnant Mary searching for shelter emphasised to the girls that displaced or poor people need a hand up, not a hand out. This point was made by Rebecca Callaghan, of the St Vincent de Paul Society, who was there to thank the girls for their efforts in the Christmas Appeal.
Rebecca read a letter from a family expressing gratitude for a gift Christmas hamper. The mother stressed it was not just the food but also the sharing of love and hope from strangers that gave her strength to carry on.
Principal Sheena Barber spoke to the girls about the need for acceptance and that they walked in the footsteps of Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy, telling them to “cherish peace, goodwill and mercy because if Christmas is not in our hearts, we won’t find it under a tree.” Our girls did more than accept the choir, they were moved by the sincerity, skill, joy and love the choir members brought to our school.
Later in the staff room, one choir member, Sally, played her ukulele and sang a song about beauty, a spontaneous act of happiness and she later said “We enjoyed doing this today, because the girls were so beautiful.” Her friend Eve added, “You have such really nice girls, the whole atmosphere was so heartening.” Choir leader Bernard said “It was the most touching gig the choir has done. It was a gorgeous, uplifting thing to do.”
It was too good to have just once, so choirmaster Bernard has spoken to Rosa Speranza, Mission Leader and Music Coordinator Claire Gamlin, and they organised to have the choir back next year.