Church Celebrates 100 Years of Performing Handel’s Messiah

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By Emily Drooby

Three generations of the Manning family have performed Handel’s Messiah at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. 

As the church is celebrating its 100-year anniversary of singing the beloved Christmas staple, Justin T. Manning is celebrating his own milestone: after watching his father perform since 1987, Justin is stepping into his place in the family tradition.

Reading from his father’s music book, he’ll be performing his first solo. It’s an emotional tribute generations in the making. 

“It’s such an honor to be doing this as I’m continuing the legacy of my father, Stanley A. Manning,” Justin said. “He passed away back in 2013 due to cancer. So, it was very difficult for me to pick it up. He has very big shoes.” 

Handel’s Messiah has become a holiday tradition for congregants like Joan Patterson, who has been in the production for almost 60 years.  

“It’s like reading the Bible — you learn something new every year,” she explained. “It never gets old. It’s a wonderful work, and it has so much spirit and heart.”

Voilins and voices come together in harmony, vibrating through the chambers of one of Brooklyn’s oldest black congregations. The over 200 page oratorio, which takes months of practice to perfect, has become a ritual engrained in the fabric of the church. 

“It’s a cantata work, a religious work,” said professor Glenn McMillan, the church’s minister of music. “And it has that most familiar work, which is the Hallelujah, and we celebrate that it brings us into the Christmas season.”

It’s a sound that signals the holidays. The show is being held at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15. It is free to the public.