Reviewed by Andrew Rolfe
It's easy to get bogged down with the negativity endlessly pumped out by the pessimism-obsessed mainstream media. Where in the world are the good folk living? Where on earth is God? Strangely enough, he's got at least two addresses in New York: but don't expect to hear this on CNBC. The first is Times Square Church, started by erstwhile "skinny preacher" David Wilkerson of The Cross Aand Tthe Switchblade fame. The second is The Brooklyn Tabernacle, led by Jim and Carol Cymbala, which started out as a prayer meeting and is now a vibrant, multinational throng of 10,000 souls. I've heard from a reliable American source that both churches have experienced real revival over recent years, the type where drug addicts, prostitutes, the homeless, burnt-out professional folk and broken-down regular folk get old-fashioned "saved". The 'testimentary' section of the DVD introduces us to some of them. Normal people with heavy bags of past, like you and I, describe how slowly but surely God started to turn their lives the right way round. Centred on their attendance at The Tabernacle, interviews are honest, straight from the heart, at times disturbing, often moving and extremely encouraging: if God can help them, then hey, I'm in luck because they look like me! The testimony-interviews are intertwined with vibrant choir music and reality images from around New York. It's sad at times, but when you see the final smiles you know we've not just got another newsroom bad ending. The quality of the video work is impressive, it captures something that can only be described as a sense of love; warm; familial; God's love. We also get to see behind-the-scenes of the choir with Carol chatting about the songs, her motivation and a little history of the whole thing. Now on to the live choir-only part. I can imagine walking into the Tabernacle for the first time, hearing the choir and having a current of multi-coloured feelings rush around my stomach as melodies and beautifully harmonized voices ebb and flow, massaging my ears from the auditorium's brightly lit stage. We're talking 300 people and it's nothing short of extremely impressive: to be expected from a multiple Grammy/Dove Award-winning choir where the female soloists rival the likes of Whitney Houston. Mrs Cymbala says she wanted to write praise and worship songs for the whole church to sing, not just that part standing in the choir. This she has achieved, keeping lyrics simple and repetitive enough to have you humming along in no time. A Latinized "We Fill The Sanctuary" raises the roof. "Worthy Is The Lamb" by Darlene Zschech gospel-pops its rhythm on your eardrums. Also featured are "I Will Bless Your Name", "King Of Glory" and "I Adore You". Having a choir in front of the congregation works really well in the sense that because there are so many folk the focus is not on them as individuals. Of course there is a leader and soloists but they quickly blend into the singing throng and don't steal the limelight from he who should be the focus of our adoration. The camera work makes you feel a part of the congregation and because you again see the individuals from the documentary section, it's like seeing old friends: you kinda feel like you belong. There is the danger of getting a bit queasy: 71 minutes of zooming around with multiple handheld and crane cameras is probably enough for most stomachs. Nonetheless, it's great to have the chance to watch this large, New York skyscraper of a choir in their chic, shimmering pink and black outfits. This is good, American evangelical Christianity and the most refreshing thing? Not once do they talk about wealth or prosperity, and none of the women has got a crazy-coloured, big hairdo. It does get a bit Broadway entertainment sometimes, but that's allowed seeing as though that particular street is only about 10 miles away. All in all it's an audio-visual, uplifting experience. I challenge you to watch the choir in full flow when you're feeling miserable and not be elevated about four stories: their smiles and joy are, as C S Lewis might have called it, "a good infection".
The opinions expressed in this article are
not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed
views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may
not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a
Interested in reviewing music? Find out