JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — While serving 31 years with the Army National Guard, Col. (Ret.) Bruce Pearre sometimes had to find the music ministry niche that would allow him to work around military duty. When deployed, he couldn’t formally serve a church. But Col. Pearre always finds ways to praise through music.
And because of his experience, he recognizes when others need an outlet. Ordained last fall, he also has a heart for small churches. The Christmas season often is particularly poignant as larger congregations present cantata productions with multi-member choirs.
Col. Pearre has served as minister of music at Immanuel Baptist Church in Jefferson City “off and on” for more than 20 years. At times, duty took him away, but at each opportunity members always called him back.
Ten years ago, he led the church to allow him to form a joint choir with a sister congregation. “I thought it would be kind of neat to join with another small church for outreach and to make a difference,” he explained. “A joint cantata could be a kind of outreach to each community.”
That year, Immanuel and Hopewell Baptist Church in nearby New Bloomfield combined choirs for the first joint venture. Still on active duty, Col. Pearre waited a few years, and then invited singers at Jamestown Baptist Church to perform with the Immanuel choir at Christmas.
He retired in 2009 and continues to work for the Army National Guard as a part-time, civilian employee. He laughed that no more weekend duty means more freedom for church music.
In 2010 and 2011, choirs at Immanuel and Hickory Hill Baptist Church, just west of Jefferson City, performed a cantata together. This year, singers at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, also nearby, joined the two congregations to perform “Silent Night, Holy Night” by Russell Mauldin.
Immanuel’s choir averages about 15 to 20 members, the minimum needed to sing a cantata effectively, Col. Pearre explained. “We had 30 voices this year with the three churches. That made a really great choir,” he said.
“It was good this year, probably our best one,” Pastor Shane Crum said.
Singers must be especially committed to the endeavor, the choir director noted, because participation means extra travel and time. Rehearsals this year began the first week of September and were held each Wednesday evening at Immanuel. Then as the number of rehearsals increased, the combined group met on Sundays, sometimes at Hickory Hill as well.
Although the joint effort requires extra work, the rewards far outweigh any difficulty. “It’s been really good for us because we get to sing with a larger choir,” Hickory Hill member Keith Hale said. “Lots of times, our choir is like a double quartet…, so it’s really nice to hear a cantata all voiced out properly.”
The Hickory Hill congregation also emphasizes the outreach aspect the program allows. “We had a lot of prospects come” when the cantata was performed at the church Dec. 9, Hale noted. “We try to use it as an outreach tool…. The Christmas story is why we do what we do,” he said. “The words of the cantata were exceptional this time…. One song took us from the birth to the resurrection.”
Col. Pearre pointed to the “neat friendships” that have developed as a result of the joint effort. “We get to share together and fellowship together…. It’s a neat experience…. It’s been truly a blessing to work and to uplift our church bodies,” he said. “It’s a great way to worship together.”
The common bond has blessed Hale, as well. “It helps churches work together and provides good camaraderie,” he said. “And it helps us see we aren’t isolated.”