The list of elements that make for a perfect trip might include seeing ‘must be seen’ sights; a purpose that binds the group; comradery among the group members; beautiful weather; unique and amazing experiences; not losing anyone; and laughing a lot (and I mean a lot). Well, then the Youth Choir trip to Buffalo, NY and Ontario, Canada may have been a perfect trip.
Thirty-six youth and 7 adults flew to Buffalo on June 25, loaded our bus for the week, and met Kelly Hinds, the world’s best tour bus driver. Our first stop was the Anchor Bar and Grill, home of the Buffalo chicken wing. We crossed the border (passports? Yes!) into Canada and spent two wonderful days in Barrie, Ontario, a more rural area in northern Ontario. The choir’s first scheduled performance was at Celebration Anglican Church with enthusiastic interaction between the congregation and the choir. What a wonderful time of worship. God was present and there was a wonderful sense of community.
Sunday afternoon provided a first for all group members: swimming in a Canadian lake (yes, it was cold). In the evening the generous congregation of Celebration church, led by Mary Ellen Huckabee’s friend and former college roommate, Linda Soltis, fed us dinner in a park at the edge of Lake Simcoe. After dinner we sang for the congregants who fed us and for families who lingered at the park at the end of a day playing at the beach at the lake’s edge. Sunset, music, fellowship. A perfect day.
Next stop: Toronto! We spent two days exploring the city, first at museums and sights the youth chose. For lunch Mary Ellen and I walked to China Town with our group of 18 and ate in a very authentic dim sum restaurant. Lots of first time tastes and experiences (“What is this?” “Can I use a fork instead of these chopsticks?”) A scavenger hunt in the afternoon provided a chance to explore downtown Toronto in small groups. On Tuesday the group spent the day at the Toronto Science Center which included our next performance and the surprise arrival of Blair Setnor just before the singing commenced. Her arrival pushed the group to new heights of energy and excitement.
To end the day we rode the ferry to Centre Island, off the edge of Toronto on Lake Ontario. The beautiful Toronto skyline and weather, plus a little ‘manhunt’ time in a park on the island made this a beautiful interlude of the trip. While waiting for the return ferry some of the boys played ‘Dat Boy’, a game they invented using 16 ounce water bottles. They were rambunctious, focused and inventive. Onlookers laughed and cheered for them and the chaperones had yet another opportunity to hear strangers compliment our group’s behavior and personality.
On Wednesday we departed Toronto for the Niagara Falls area. The group toured and stayed at Niagara College, home of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute, a training school for culinary students, before heading over to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. If you have seen Niagara Falls you may be able to picture our reaction. We were truly stunned by seeing one of the seven wonders of the modern world. I think most of the group, including chaperones, will say that the best part of the trip was riding The Hornblower, the boat that takes you to the base of the falls so that you are surrounded on three sides by the powerful spray of the falls. We all wore matching red rain ponchos provided by the boat company to keep from getting soaked. There was much hooting and celebrating, wet photographs and joyful excitement, which led Candler student and chaperon Nick Georgian to yell out, “Give me all the high fives.” The group readily complied, giving every single one.
On Thursday we returned to the United States. While crossing the border back into the United States we were scolded by a border guard to be quiet. We did remain quiet until we got back on the bus where the infectious energy of the group spread again. The bus rides fostered our community spirit throughout the week. In the afternoon we divided into two groups and sang at an assisted living center and an adult day care center. At both centers the youth were wonderful, first in engaging the clients and residents in conversation and then sharing their musical gifts.
On Thursday night we attended the Buffalo Bisons game. In April we had requested to sing the national anthem at the game. After much back and forth with Bisons staff members, including sending them audio of the choir singing (to prove we had the chops), we were told that we were approved to sing the national anthems. Did you notice that ‘s’ on the end of anthems? As the Bisons are a minor league team of the Toronto Blue Jays they sing both the Canadian and US National Anthems at each game. No fear; only joy. Wes chose beautiful arrangements of each anthem and the choir learned them in a short time. They were amazing. The excitement and adrenaline of singing and watching the game produced a high octane “Katie Cole”, a Glenn original free-style rap song, on the bus ride back to the hotel.
Throughout the week the youth sang on Wes’s command, in concert, spontaneously, in small groups, known songs and created songs. God sang through them, and they expressed joy and Jesus through music. Glenn UMC lived through our youth. People frequently complimented the youth, smiled at their interactions, complimented them to the chaperones. The chaperones were proud of them. Parents and all of the Glenn community should be proud of how Glenn demonstrated our commitment to loving God and loving neighbor with our heart, mind, soul and strength. Wes Griffin brings out the best in them as he has for over 30 years. What a wonderful ministry.
The choir thanks all of the parents, friends, donors, and members of the church who supported this tour. We felt your prayers and excitement for us throughout the week. This is one of the most wonderful ministries Glenn offers to its youth and to the communities with which the youth engage. Thank you. We give Glenn all the high fives!