THE RETREAT SINGERS
TRINITY EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS
The Retreat Singers were a group of young adults from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas who wrote and performed a musical “Folk Song Life of Christ” from 1965 to 1971.
The Retreat Singers’ ministry combined mission and music. During the school year, the group performed on weekends in churches and occasionally in concert auditoriums and on television. In the summers, they traveled to a work project to perform community service associated with the Episcopal or Anglican church.
In 1966, they made repairs to a 104-year old church and taught summer school to Cree children in Moose Factory and Fort George, Canada. In 1967, they painted the Bishop’s offices, built chicken coops and taught school in British Honduras. In 1968, they sang for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in England, and while there renovated an old manor house into a home for the aged. In 1969, they repainted the cabins at Episcopal Camp Mitchell in Arkansas, and traveled through the lower South participating in cleanup after Hurricane Camille. They built a schoolhouse from the ground up on a Navajo reservation in Utah in 1970. The last tour, 1971, took them to an underprivileged area in Kentucky.
On their way to and from these projects, they sang in Episcopal churches along the route. Parishioners from these churches fed and housed them overnight. The next morning, they would reconvene at the local church and pile into two buses – the Exobus and the Holy Roller – and proceed to the next destination.
From 1966 to 1971, the number of teens involved in the Retreat Singers grew from 26 to 100 under the leadership of the Reverend Ed Shippey.
Thirty years later, the Retreat Singers hear news about one another from a Retreat Singers newsletter and occasional ‘formal’ and informal reunions. Some Retreat Singers are married to one another, and many are godparents to each other’s children. They’ve grown up now, and some have children older than they were when they traveled the world singing the “Life.”
Whether they see each other everyday, or never at all, their experiences as Retreat Singers formed a bond that lasts a lifetime.