Photo essay: the power of music in the church

Abu Dhabi's Garden of Peace Choir delivers a moving performance at Sunday service

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Music is a key part of worship for many religious groups around the world.

This could not be more true at the Redeemed Christian Congregation of God in Abu Dhabi. The church, which regularly meets on Sundays, at St Andrews Church in Al Mushrif, has the electrifying Garden of Peace Choir as a core part of its service.

Femi Ologbemi, lead singer for the Garden of Peace Choir, performs during Sunday morning mass at St Andrews Church. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“Music is a gift. Singing is a gift,” says choir music director Ologbenla Benjamin. “It’s something we do for God as part of our worship, true worship from our pure hearts.”

The Redeemed Christian Congregation of God first started in Dubai in 2001 at the Holy Trinity Anglican church, then opened a chapter in Sharjah and eventually in Abu Dhabi in 2008.

Pastor Efema Akioya told The National that while the church headquarters is in Nigeria, the Redeemed Christian Congregation of God is present in more than 200 countries around the world. Currently, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the church welcomes 100 people for Sunday worship.

Pastor Efema Akioya, originally from Nigeria, during Sunday morning mass for the Redeemed Christian Congregation of God at St Andrews Church. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“The Bible says, he that offers praises glorifies me,” says Pastor Efema Akioya, who joined the church in 2005. “So if you offer praises to God you are giving him glory. Music is part of our worship and giving glory to God.”

The choir performs contemporary pieces of church music, which can last up to 10 minutes. The choice of song is based on the specific theme of the month chosen by Akioya.

Orji Nneka from the Garden of Peace Choir sings during Sunday morning mass. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“We sing endurance songs,” Benjamin says. “We have different ethnic groups, different cultures at the church, so we do our music in a contemporary way. They are usually very popular songs that we test out before we perform.”

Meeting once a week for practice, the choir performing each Sunday is made up of 10 to 20 members.

Ologbenla Benjamin, music director for the Garden of Peace Choir leads practice for Sunday mass. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Benjamin, who works as a water sports instructor outside his duties at the church, emphasises how important it is for the whole congregation to be involved in performance.

“They [the congregation] are involved 100 per cent,” he says. “You have to get involved, everybody has to stand up, and we sing together and worship together.”

Worshippers of the Redeemed Christian Congregation of God parish follow the lively lead set by the choir at mass. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Benjamin, who has been involved in church music and performances since childhood and plays the piano and guitar, believes in the importance of being present during performances.

“Church music and singing is about worshiping and praising God,” he says. “The spirit is connected. In a church setting your spirit has to be connected, you have to be devoted, you have to wholly present.”

He also sees his role and the role of music in the church as one that inspires and educates.

“As a music director I think it’s important to lift people up through music,” he says. “We have to lift people up with what we know, give them a little knowledge, teach them.”

Redeemed Christian Congregation of God parish members clapping to the hymns at Sunday morning mass. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Updated: August 09, 2022, 8:17 AM
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