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Sacred Steps: A Mennonite Couple Turn Street Ministry Into Song

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Jules Wecker
Al and Andi Tauber met in the 1980s, when they were students at Illinois Wesleyan University. After trying different denominations, they settled on the urban Mennonite Church, and for the past 20 years they've worked with male sex workers in Chicago.

In this story from The Spiritual Edge, we'll meet Al and Andi Tauber, married singer-songwriters who direct music for a congregation of urban Mennonites in Chicago. Like their Amish and Quaker spiritual cousins, Mennonites favor the simple life, but they see God in city life too. For the Taubers, this means taking their faith and music to the streets.

“I’ve really come to see that God has also called us to just be there with these guys.” -- Al Tauber

Chicago’s known for great architecture, but the one-story building at the corner of Pratt and Ashland is no landmark. The red brick rectangle used to be a discount store. Inside, there’s a sparse room with a dull navy carpet, and on a recent Monday night, a dozen musicians sit on mismatched chairs.

If not for the 8-foot pine cross stuck on a chunk of plywood at the front of the room, you might not guess this is a church. The band members - kids as young as 5 up to adults in their 50s, are a mix of native Midwesterners, refugees, immigrants. They play maracas, ukuleles, guitars, keyboards and a scratched-up drum kit. They work their way through a song you won’t find in a hymnal: “Should I Stay or Should I Go,”  the ’80s punk rock anthem by The Clash. 

Welcome to the Monday night Jam Session at Living Water Community Church. Your hosts: Al and Andi Tauber. Al’s the wild-eyed, long-haired guy in the center with an electric guitar and a striking resemblance to a widely reproduced painting of a white Jesus. His wife Andi’s the one with unobtrusive glasses and a mischievous grin, gliding between the piano and drums. With joy —  and optimism — and generosity, people learn words in new languages, trade instruments, make mistakes, and play on.  With Al as the pied piper, and Andi keeping time, the Taubers manage to lead without grabbing the spotlight. 

Everything they do — their work, their music, their marriage —  involves a kind of deep listening. An ear for changes in rhythm and key.  An ability to respond to others, to have faith the song will find its way. Even if it falls into chaos sometimes. Even if you have to stop and start again. 

“There’s this other side of what we do, which is a ministry of presence,” Al says, referring to his and Andi’s day jobs, reaching out to male street prostitutes.

For the complete story, click the blue arrow above to listen.

This Sacred Steps story was produced in collaboration with KALW's The Spiritual Edge, USC's Center for Religion and Civic Culture and Religion News Service