Unitarian Universalist Compassionate Choirs

What is a Compassionate Choir?

Compassionate choirs offer music at the bedside or in the home. The groups may sing for those in hospice, and also for those who are sick or in long-term care. While some are for female voices only, they often include voices of all genders. The song repertoire includes simple songs and chants, sometimes composed by choir members, as well as familiar hymns and seasonal songs. Some choirs also include oldies, some popular music, show tunes and patriotic songs.

Membership in a compassionate choir offers spiritual growth and connection to choir members as well as comfort to those for whom (and sometimes with whom) they sing.

What Are Some Models for Unitarian Universalist Involvement in Compassionate Choirs?

Here are a few possible models; please email religiouseducation@uua.org if you would like your congregation's choir included in this list:

Community-Based Choir; Congregational Music Director Directs

These groups are open to a people of all faith traditions or no faith tradition.

Congregationally-Based Choir; Part of Music Ministry

Compassionate choirs are part of the music ministry of some Unitarian Universalist congregations. Congregationally-based choirs are typically in close touch with the congregation's ministry and pastoral care teams, and sing for members of their faith community as part of the congregation's pastoral care ministry.

  • First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, NM, has a pastoral care choir called Sol Singers. Music Director Susan Peck writes that Sol Singers "sing meditative and healing songs and chants, to heal themselves and to share music with our community. We make visits to folks in the hospital."
  • First Parish in Concord, MA has a compassionate choir called By Your Side Singers. This group works with the pastoral care ministry team, singing for those who are in hospice care, in long-term care, sick, or otherise in transition.
  • First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX, By Your Side Singers began meeting in October 2015, singing for those who need pastoral care.
  • Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, NC, has a group called MOM (Ministry of Music) that sings with people (primarily members and their family members) who are in sick, dying, or in long-term care. Music Director Yuri Yamamoto, writes, "Once I was one of the three people who sang at a deathbed of a choir member. That was a powerful experience."
  • All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK, describes SpiritSong singers as an integral part of both their music and pastoral care ministries. The congregation's website lifts up the purpose and philosophy of SpiritSong: "The singers and group leaders are honored and grateful to be welcomed into a family’s intimate circle and to stand as loving witnesses to the sacred process of dying.We believe this practice is a step towards changing cultural attitudes and behaviors around death and dying."

Congregational Singing Groups Who Include Music for Bedside Singing in Their Repertoire

Voices Lifted

Members of Voices Lifted Music Ministry, take turns in the rehearsal lounge chair, allowing others to practice "singing with intention." The vocal ensemble was founded by Rev. Kellie Walker Hart, longtime Director of Music Ministries at the Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Chandler, AZ. When she attended a workshop held by Threshold Choirs founder Kate Munger, Walker Hart had recently found out her sister’s breast cancer had metastasized, and she welcomed the chance to experience being sung to by the all-female choir. “As the group of female voices singing in harmony washed over me, I felt cared for, and my tears were healing. A year and a half later, as I sat with my sister on the night she died at home, I sang the same song to her.” Comforted by the CDs of the Threshold Choir, Walker Hart was inspired to found a similar singing group.

"Voices Lifted Brings Comfort to Valley Hospice Residents" news article

By Your Side Singers

A discernment process at First Parish of Concord, MA, led music director Beth Norton and the pastoral care team to establish a pastoral care choir. Their name, "By Your Side Singers," resonates with the entire parish. The group meets twice a month for singing meditation. Their repertoire includes songs from the UU hymn books and chants group members have composed themselves. They sing to one another to experience what it feels like to be bathed and held in song. Each time they meet, they share joys, sorrows, and celebrations using the ritual chant, "We are sending you light to heal you, to hold you; We are sending you light to hold you in love."*

Requests for bedside or in-home singing by groups of 3 or 4 singers come through the pastoral care team or the ministers. Pastoral care lay minister Dana Snyder-Grant reflects, "People may have a hard time asking for help or accepting that they are in a place where being sung to might make a difference. We can help them accept that this is something that they can take in." Norton recounts, "We recently sang for a parishioner who was approaching death. Although agitated when we arrived, the member calmed as we sang, eventually humming along with our closing song, “Singing, singing with you, singing with you is our prayer.”

*words & music ©1993 Melanie DeMore