Last fall, Dr. Mark Howe of Burlington's St. Paul's Cathedral got a voicemail message from a representative of the African Children's Choir, asking how he'd feel about hosting them for a concert on Friday, August 29, 2008, at 7:30 p.m. Though Howe had never heard of the group composed of 7- to 11-year-old orphans from Kenya and Uganda - "I don't have a TV," he says - he soon learned its members have raised their voices in venues ranging from the White House to Madison Square Garden to the set of "American Idol." (The proceeds benefit African schools and other programs.)
Howe called up a Manchester, Vermont, church where the Choir had made a recent stop: "The enthusiasm was overwhelming," he recalls. But there was one problem: The Choir's rep requested that the children make their overnight stay in Burlington with "traditional families." "A red flag came up for me," says Howe, whose Episcopal church has an inclusive policy. After a talk with Bishop Thomas Ely, who stressed the importance of staying connected and talking out the issues across ideological boundaries, Howe worked out a compromise: The Choir members will stay at Rock Point School. Members of St. Paul's kids' and adult choirs have volunteered to make their meals.
The African Children's Choir is a big act for the cathedral - "We seat 300 to 350 uncomfortably," says Howe with a chuckle. If need be, though, he's prepared to set out chairs in the garden. The event is free, with donations encouraged.