In the 1992 musical comedy Sister Act Whoopi Goldberg stars as a troubled lounge singer from Reno with no thought of God. After becoming an accidental witness to a murder she is given protective custody in a convent where she ends up inspiring the choir into musical greatness.
The movie is familiar to many but that’s only one of the reasons why the Sister Act group of the Anglican Parish of Minden Kinmount and Maple Lake is so well-received whenever they step onto the stage.
Each time they are introduced usually by Rev. Canon Joan Cavanaugh the choir of about 12 parishioners clad in handmade nun habits even on the warmest of days are greeted with smiles and giggles from the audience. Their faces beam with joy as they look toward Shawn Chamberlin who often plays keyboard for some of their lively hits that include “I’m a Believer” “Spirit in the Sky” but also traditional songs like “Amazing Grace” – and sometimes depending on the gig the national anthem.
The spirited choir started joining soon after Cavanaugh came to the community to St. James in Kinmount St. Paul’s in Minden and St. Peter’s in Maple Lake – what she calls “one church with the convenience of three buildings.” At that time Cavanaugh said there was always a gathering of women doing things together but typically the activity focused on cooking or dinners.
“I wanted to join together for the ladies to get to know each other but also to be able to go out in the community and show people that being part of a church part of a worshipping body isn’t dull and boring” said Cavanaugh.
When she suggested the idea of a Sister Act choir based on the movie which Cavanaugh said speaks theologically to her of what their mission is at first the women’s reactions were a bit hesitant.
“They said ‘oh no we can’t do that’” she laughs.
But soon enough people began signing up – and some of those people are still original members of the choir who Cavanaugh said are “standing up and proclaiming their love of God through music.”
Since then they travel to about two or three events a year and are also a fixture at many community events including Canada Day and concerts at the county’s long-term care homes. They’ve even been spotted in costume on the way to events helping turtles from the road or assisting at car accidents. But one of the most memorable of their group’s experiences was the honour of taking part in Toronto’s 157th session of Synod this past November. The gathering brings all the licensed clergy in the diocese and lay members (non-clergy) together in a mass meeting where between speakers guests are treated to entertainment.
“I think one of the highlights was going to Synod and being so well-received” said Cavanaugh. ”Hearing the words of other people who go to church and say ‘it’s a breath of fresh air.’”
Cavanaugh said the group is one important part of what the church does in the community including hosting a thrift shop donating space to clubs in need reaching out to help neighbours that is part of a Christian purpose of proclaiming the gospel and Christ’s love in the community to help each other grow. And while engaging in that mission there’s a lot of fun to be had and laughter to be shared – especially from the crowd when they recognize the former bank manager or head of the fair board on stage.
“Being part of a church and growing in your faith means we have a responsibility to ourselves the community and God to be as open and as fun and as creative as we can be to help bring the message of peace and love and joy to the community and the world” she said.
She’s humble about her own role in encouraging and supporting the group but appreciates very much the group’s efforts in “bringing joy to people and being that little bit of entertainment that’s different.”
The Sister Act choir will be seen at various events throughout the county this year. Members include Wendy Ladurantaye Wendy Connelly Daisy Downs Nadene Campbell Sylvia Claridge Marg O’Shaughnessy Shirley Mitchell Barbara Trocewitz Pat Fraser Theresa Riley B.J. Harpur Mennie Manangan Tess Husbands Elli Chamberlin and Martha Waind.