By Eden E. Woldearegay and Sam Guzik
Specials to DNAinfo
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — On a recent Sunday, Rev. Melvin Miller looked more like a dancer prepared to leap onto the stage at the New York City Ballet than a pastor ministering to his congregation.
As he stepped onto the pulpit dressed in a white shirt and tights with the choir singing beside him, Miller began to dance. For six minutes, he swayed, leaped, pirouetted and used sign language, covering every corner of the brightly lit podium.
While some pastors use fiery sermons, Miller preaches through dance, part of a new ministry launched in the fall of 2010 by the Fort Washington Collegiate Church in Washington Heights. Aiming to provide congregants with an alternative path to spirituality, the new ministry expands the church’s arts-based approach, which combines artistic expression and worship.
“Something happens when I take that first step; something I think that is so amazing when the spirit and the body and the mind come together as one,” Miller said. “God and I are able to move together.”
At some services, Miller dances alone, using expressive motions and sign language to respond to the week’s liturgy. Some weeks, Miller is joined by lay people performing pieces he choreographed. Nearly every Sunday, however, a dance piece is included in the worship.
“There’s something really powerful and visceral about dance,” said Chanelle Schaffer, the director of music and worship arts. “There are ways in which I think music speaks to people in a way that’s deeper than the text itself and there’s a way that dance communicates things in a way that music can’t.”
The church, located at 729 W. 181 St., celebrated its centennial in 2009 and has a history of exploring alternative forms of worship. Since it began, dance has become a regular component of the church’s Sunday service, but the full ministry does not perform every week.