“Fan the Flame” from Florida and Farewell to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

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      Timelines seem to be a good thing. Let’s do one with BT and the pandemic, with this recent February 2023 Baptist News Global article featuring Jim Cymbala in view https://baptistnews.com/article/the-pandemic-gave-jim-cymbala-a-new-window-on-church/.

      February 18, 2020 – Jim (and Carol?) were in Florida that week. One of the associate pastors had us pray for them during the prayer meeting.

      March 8, 2020 – Jim (and Carol?) were back in Florida again, soon after their last trip. According to the article “I went down on March 8, 2020, to get away and planned for four or five days of rest in Florida,” he explained. “We rent an apartment a block and a half from the church here in downtown Brooklyn. My parents have a summer getaway place. As soon as we got there, the next day, they called us from Brooklyn and said, ‘Don’t get on a plane. Don’t go anywhere. Churches are closed down. Offices are closed down. Schools, banks … everything’s closed down.’”

      Where is this “summer getaway place” his parents have? Is this a separate place from the one he and Carol own in Florida? Who are “they” in the article “…they called us from Brooklyn…”? It seems like it refers to his parents, but both of his parents are no longer alive. An error in the article?

      What I remember hearing on multiple occasions that it was the associate pastors who agreed together that the Cymbalas should not come back to New York. Associate pastors or the board of directors. Along those lines. Whatever it was, Jim portrayed it as he was told what to do and he submitted to it.

      Meanwhile the church employees were instructed to remain in the tri-state area throughout the pandemic as a condition of their continued employment.

      November 2020 – Brian and Sue Pettrey, both paid employees of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, purchased a home in Florida. According to their oldest daughter who is also a paid employee of BT, Claire, later in a public online post “our parents decided to end their rental lease, pack up all of their belongings in a storage unit, and move to Florida.” Their rental home in NYC supposedly approached near $6,000/month.

      February and March 2021 – NYC public schools reopened

      The Pettreys seemed pretty settled in Florida. Claire got engaged, and her best friend moved to Florida in the Spring of 2021 to help her plan the wedding.

      April 2021 – Jim Cymbala headlining a “Pastor Renewal Retreat” at The Cove (Billy Graham Training Center), still not returning to NYC

      (From the February 2023 Baptist News article “While I was in Florida, I was meeting with pastors almost weekly when they learned Carol and I were in their area. Different denominations were bringing over five or more people, almost weekly to have coffee and just talk and pray. We started visiting some churches, then later to speak at some.”)

      Between March 2020 and July 2021 while the church was closed and while there were countless opportunities to minister to the congregation and community, there is not much evidence of ministry efforts other than a food distribution event and some individual pastors, employees and volunteers carrying the weight of the ministry in whatever way they could.

      July 2021 – Jim and Carol return to NYC after 16 months in Florida

      July 4, 2021 – BT had their first in-person church service

      July 24, 2021 – Claire Pettrey gets married at BT

      September 2021 – Brian and Sue Pettrey are back in NYC. Their storage unit in New York flooded due to a storm in the area. Claire and Luke posted a public GoFundMe to ask for money for their parents, setting a goal of $25,000 in donations. Less than a day later, the fundraiser was closed with just over $9,000 in GoFundMe donations from kind-hearted people, and apparently more than that was received through private giving.

      October 2021 – Luke Pettrey installed as leader of MVMT, which rebranded as Sanctus

      November 7, 2021 – PERMANENT digital screens installed on platform stage at BT. The choir risers could no longer be used in full extension for the sanctuary.

      November 12, 2021 – Luke Pettrey gets married at BT

      December 2021 – omicron restricted the holiday season

      January 2022 – Carol Cymbala says at a Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers concert at Willy Rice’s Calvary Church in Clearwater, FL, where Jim recorded his messages and sermons throughout the pandemic, “when we went back home to New York in July 2021, there weren’t too many from the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir that came back to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. There were about 20 people that were in the choir who offered themselves and said, “Carol, we’re ready, we’re ready to sing.”” Jim added, “Just so you understand, she has 230 members in the choir, they’ve won 6 Grammy Awards, but when we came back to NY – it’s not like Florida – the people are locked away in their apartments, many afraid to be around any large group of people….”

      It was very sad and disappointing to hear him refer to his beloved congregation in this way, especially after being away from them for 16 months in a large home and expansive space filled with sunshine throughout the western FL coastal region, while his church struggled with pandemic life “locked away” in the inner city. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SR6K_S2usrg

      Starting the choir back up would have required several months with many regular rehearsals taking place while people acclimated back into the routine. There does not seem to be any evidence of regular choir rehearsals or meaningful outreaches to the choir members anytime between July 2021 and May 2022, in order to put any legitimate effort into relaunching the choir. A survey was seemingly sent around once to some of the choir members to gather information on who was interested in returning, although it appears as though not all choir members even received it.

      May 7, 2022 – With no additional documented effort to minister as God called the leadership of the Brooklyn Tabernacle to do for the choir filled with precious individuals who had been through substantial changes and stresses due to the pandemic, Carol emails the choir telling them the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is no more. “We have been watching carefully and we don’t believe there are even 50 members from our former choir who are attending the church regularly today.”

      Later in May 2022 – BT Singers in Nashville already recording for an upcoming album release

      September 2022 – Fan the Flame new book by Jim Cymbala published

      October 2022 – new album is released with new label, StowTown Records, under label partner Landon Beene, husband of paid BT soloist Taranda Greene, “A Night of Worship with The Brooklyn Tabernacle.”

      @bt_choir Instagram handle used hashtag #BrooklynTabernacleChoir for promotional posts, even though album is not featuring the 6-time Grammy Award-winning choir. Instead, it is a smaller group of about 20 people, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers, comprised of soloists and very few hand selected members from the choir chosen by Carol. The communications department responsible for social media posts at BT includes employees Susan Pettrey and Claire (Pettrey) Giannini, and their album release posts seem in line with album release press such as this one https://www.ccmmagazine.com/news/a-night-of-worship-with-the-brooklyn-tabernacle-set-to-release-oct-21/.

      “Throughout the collection, the group’s signature sound takes centerstage atop Inspirational, Gospel and contemporary melodies enveloped in sweeping orchestral arrangements. “After almost a year-and-a-half of being away from each other in person, it was amazing to get back together to worship, pray and sing for the Lord,” shares Carol Cymbala of the new recording.” Mixed messaging throughout the album promotion lends to the impression that the choir is back together recording albums just as they have been for the past 30 plus years.

      Which brings us to the February 2023 Baptist News Global article that inspired this brief trip down memory lane. “He and his wife, Carol, who leads their church’s Grammy Award-winning choir, have definitely lived a life with challenges. “Being a pastor or church leader is a sacred calling,” he said. “…So, we have to take our calling very seriously because, at the end of the day, we’re gonna stand before the Lord, not a denominational board.”” So be it.

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