Going viral: Bermudian who led virtual choir
Faith-based communities around the world are becoming more creative and innovative with the way they worship during this time of social distancing and sheltering in place.
One Bermudian, Stephen Manders, is leading the way in these efforts with his musical talents.
During a live-streamed Sabbath service at Oakwood University Church on April 4, he directed a virtual choir with singers from all around the world, several of whom were Bermudian.
It fell under his remit as the assistant minister of music at the Huntsville, Alabama church where, under Dr Carlton P Byrd, his responsibilities include coordinating the band, praise team and choirs for services and other musical events.
The performance went viral, and was shared widely within the Bermuda community. It was also featured on The Shade Room, a pop culture platform which has a following of over 18 million people.
According to Mr Manders, the formation of the virtual choir aligned perfectly with the social distancing protocols now in place.
“Dr Byrd had a vision of creating an online ministry and the virtual choir was a way to kick that off,” he said. “We reached out to 24 friends in various countries and cities including Bermuda, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta and New York. All these people were friends who had worked with me in some musical capacity over the years.”
Once Oakwood University Church decided to suspend all in-person services, the next logical step was to make the most of its online platform. Neither Dr Byrd, nor Mr Manders, imagined that the online service would have the incredible response and reach that it did.
“I feel humbled, honoured and blessed that God can use the video and the song to reach people that we probably would not be able to reach just in the walls of our churches,” said the 31-year-old alumnus of The Bermuda Institute who has been active within the local Seventh-day Adventist church his entire life. His father, Pastor Kenneth Manders, is the current president of the Bermuda Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
While Stephen has always been connected to the church, like many young people who are raised in faith-based communities, he had his own personal experience with God which solidified his faith and commitment.
“My faith became personal and real to me as I started to experience a lot of difficulties with type one diabetes and other various life challenges,” he said. “During these times I was forced to start thinking about how precious life is and my true purpose for living.
“God has brought me through so many difficult times including hospital visits, surgeries and car accidents. These challenges caused me to reflect on how much God was keeping me for a greater purpose.”
In 2014 Mr Manders ventured out to start his own music ministry, Stephen Manders and Decree. The group has released two singles to date, Be Still and Adoration. Both are available for download on iTunes.
“I have had the opportunity to write and arrange music artists such as Dynamic Praise, Oakwood University's Aeolians, Sean Tillery, Kevin Terry and Patrick Lundy. I've also been able to produce music for Mark Bunney and James Fortune.”
As the world continues to navigate the changes that are taking place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Stephen had some encouraging words to share with fellow creatives.
“I believe that this is the time when creatives — musicians and artists — should utilise these online platforms. Due to the uncertainty, doubt and worry on people's minds the world needs encouragement, especially through song. I feel music is a great way to redirect that energy and focus on how much God has already taken care of us and will continue to keep us during these times.”
• Follow Stephen Manders and his music ministry on Instagram: @stephen.manders