Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 1, 2013

First Congregational on road to harmony?

TRAVERSE CITY — A year ago, controversy rocked the First Congregational Church in a very public way when church officials reneged on their invitation to a mosque leader to perform a Muslim prayer during a concert.

Church leaders ultimately determined they wanted nothing to do with the Islamic Call to Prayer, part of an emotionally powerful concert, “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace.” The piece is sung atop a video that depicts graphic war scenes and ends with different faiths drawn together in peace.

Officials said they backed off the invitation because they opposed the idea of a Muslim prayer within a Christian sanctuary. They asserted they had the right to censor it because the concert was a private event, paid for with church dollars. They also feared it would offend military veterans they planned to honor that day.

But the situation wasn’t that simple. The Veterans Day 2012 concert, to be performed in honor of the late Mel Larimer, included not only the church choir, but also public high school and college choirs, which had rehearsed for months during school hours with publicly paid instructors.

The decision deeply upset a Muslim girl who sang in the Traverse City West High School choir. It also led Northwestern Michigan College to drop its official support for the Mel Larimer Festival Choral Concert; NMC officials said the decision was “discriminatory.”

Following the blow-up, Traverse City Area Public Schools stopped using the church for its full concerts, but will begin again in April, said Wendee Wolf-Schlarf, the district’s K-12 music coordinator.

“Until we got things sorted out, the administration was being extremely sensitive and methodical to make sure we had the appropriate separations,” Wolf-Schlarf said.

The college and school choirs won’t be part of the upcoming Mel Larimer concert on Dec. 22, due also in part to scheduling conflicts.

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