Our founding director, Richard N. Stewart, was invited to join the faculty of Cornerstone University in the fall of 1972, when the school was known as Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary.
The president at that time, Dr. W. Wilbert Welch, announced the hiring in The Messenger, the school's monthly bulletin newsletter to supporting churches. He wrote, "Relatively new in his Christian faith, Mr. Stewart has expressed a desire to use his training and professional experience in serving the Lord and is especially interested in assisting churches in developing a strong, attractive, Christ-honoring musical ministry."
In the fall of 1977, with Dr. Welch's blessing, Dr. Stewart began directing the "Baptist Choral Society," which had its inaugural concert on Dec. 11, 1977. Early on, these performances were held in the gymnasium, a large multi-purpose space also used for the college's annual Bible conference.
The choral group was renamed the "Evangelical Choral Society" when the school changed its identity to Cornerstone College in 1993. During those years, the chorus was composed of college students in the Cornerstone Chorale, the school's premiere choral group, and adult singers from the evangelical community, many of them alumni who had sung for Dr. Stewart as students. The choral society developed a reputation as the only group of its kind in West Michigan to perform seldom-heard, large-scale sacred choral works, accompanied by professional orchestra, as a gift to West Michigan.
The traditional date of the annual performance eventually came to be the Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving Day. The location of the concerts moved from the college campus to the sanctuaries of several large churches in or near downtown Grand Rapids, each boasting a fine organ for use in performances.
In November 2001, Cornerstone University presented Dr. Stewart with a plaque for 25 years of directing the Evangelical Choral Society. In May 2006, he retired from full-time faculty and fine arts chair, but continued on part-time for another year as director of the Cornerstone University Chorale. In November 2006, he conducted his 30th and final ECS concert under university sponsorship. For 10 of those years, Randall Wm. Burghart, a 1994 Cornerstone graduate, served as associate director.
Upon Dr. Stewart's final and full retirement from the faculty of Cornerstone University in May 2007, the Evangelical Choral Society took a break from rehearsing and performing that fall. (There was no concert in November 2007.) Then, in June 2008, Dr. Stewart began efforts to see if the group could be re-established as an independent nonprofit organization with its own board.
In its first year as a self-sustaining, Christ-centered, choral music outreach to the community, the Evangelical Choral Society had Dr. Stewart as its Musical Director, Randy Burghart serving again as Associate Director, and a newly-established Board. Also approved as a nonprofit 501c3 organization, the inaugural concert of this independent, evangelical choral group marked the beginning of a new tradition, built on a three-decade heritage.
In July 2009, Dr. Stewart officially announced his formal retirement from ECS and Randy Burghart accepted the position of musical director for the group.
We welcome returning and new supporters and invite you to help us with the preparation and performances of sacred choral music. To all who have sung with us, played for us, and supported us financially and with your prayers since 1977, we are deeply indebted to you for your involvement with us. Thank you, and bless you for making this music outreach and ministry of the gospel possible.
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