The 35 members of the Super 60s Choir of the Church of the Open Door thought they were going to a concert last month. They all showed up right on time that Saturday evening, dressed to sing and ready to climb onto the church bus for the trip.
"We didn't tell them where they were going," said the Rev. John Campbell, assistant pastor in charge of the senior adult ministry at the Westminster church. "We didn't want to lie too much to them," he added with a laugh.
What they found when they arrived was not a concert but a surprise banquet in their honor, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the choir, whose membership is made up of seniors 55 and older. Each one got a 10-year pin and -- among many expressions of thanks and congratulations -- Maryland Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller presented them with a Senate resolution congratulating them for 10 years of dedicated song service.
That the surprise worked, that nobody knew or asked where they were going that night, is a reflection of their normally hectic schedule.
For 10 years now, the Super 60s Choir has been traveling throughout Carroll County and beyond, taking their sacred songs to nursing homes, shopping malls and even to a special concert on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
At Christmas they sing carols at Cranberry, Frederick and Security Square malls. And nearly every month they perform for residents at Long View Nursing Home in Manchester.
"When I first joined them in 1984, I wondered how I could keep up with these people," said accompanist Aleatha Carlson. "They're so energetic. You would think they're 18-year-olds."
The choir was started by Mr. Campbell as an adjunct to the Super 60s, a 250-member senior citizens group at the Church of the Open Door.
The first director of the Super 60s Choir was the Rev. Paul Scheuing. The current director is the Rev. Sterling Walsh, who is music minister for the church.
Changing directors, said member Helen Utermahlen, was an adjustment.
"When you have a horse in harness for years and then you change the harness, it takes a little getting used to," she said, laughing. "But we're very happy with him, and I think he's happy with us."
"It's not the Metropolitan Opera," she added. "Some people join and they don't know how to read notes. They don't know whether they sing soprano, alto, tenor or bass. But they find their place. They learn to read music or they just listen to their neighbor. It comes out sounding good."
Singing for the nursing home residents is satisfying, Ms. Utermahlen said.
"Sometimes when we sing the old hymns, you can see people out in the audience mouthing the words. It makes us feel good."
The choir is open to anyone over 55. The oldest member is 83 and the youngest members are in their early 70s. Only about half the members of the choir are members of the church. Their repertoire is primarily sacred music with some variations on favored hymns.
"It's a great opportunity to go and sing with the seniors and just to be able to visit with the shut-ins," said member Gwen Rill.
The choir will perform in the "Super 60s Spectacular," being held Thursday through Sunday at the Church of the Open Door. Open to all seniors, the event includes a reception, seminars and workshops, a bus trip to Gettysburg, a puppet show, a banquet, a concert by the choir and a service honoring seniors. A $45 fee includes all programs, six meals and the train ride. Information: 848-8840.