Metro riders have probably heard a man with a booming voice singing hymns and songs of worship at station entrances near Dupont Circle, Farragut and downtown. Andrew Lewis is the 50-year-old owner of that voice, and he’s been spreading his sharing his message with morning commuters for the past three years.
“The Lord spoke to me and told me to step out here on the streets and do full-time ministry,” Lewis said. “That’s what I’ve been doing ever since, reaching out by singing praise and worship.”
Ask Lewis what he does for a living and he’ll tell you: this. He keeps a donation box close by while he belts out holy praises at the top of his lungs.
Despite not having any formal musical training, Lewis shares this message through song. Though his message isn’t always well-received, Lewis said his goal is to be heard, even if people aren’t listening.
“I don’t have any complaints,” he said. “I’m doing what I’m passionate about, and that’s key. Regardless of what I’m going through, I know who my source is. That’s what got me through the fire.”
“The fact that I can reach people in the great capacity I have over the last three years is a blessing in itself,” said Lewis. “We’re in a world where not everyone believes, so I know what I’m up against. For the most part, it’s been a great journey.”
The Richmond native was ordained as a Baptist deacon in the summer of 2009. At the time, he lived in Newport News, Va., and worked with the ministry at the Providence Baptist Church.
About month after his ordination, Lewis was preparing to make dinner late one night by heating up some vegetable oil in a stockpot. He left the room for a moment and came back to find a disaster.
“When I came back into the kitchen, the apartment was on fire,” Lewis recalled. “I didn’t have a fire extinguisher and I wasn’t really thinking, so I pitched some water on it. It was just instinct.”
That panic-driven instinct resulted in an explosion that covered Lewis in hot oil. He was able to exit the apartment through a window and seek help at a fire station across the street, but he was badly burned.
After a full day of being blind in both eyes, skin grafts, surgeries and five months of recovery, Lewis was well enough to leave town. He bounced between Virginia and New York before settling in D.C. three years ago.
Though Metro riders have gotten used to his morning gospels, Lewis said his journey is coming to an end, at least for now. In December, he’ll move back to Richmond to care for his elderly mother and try to find other work.
In terms of the rest of his future, there’s only one thing Lewis knows for sure.
“Even if I’m not singing, the ministry will always be in my life because that’s just who I am,” he said. “I just want to keep reaching people and letting my light shine.”
A crowd of strangers will sing in unison this Thursday evening at Stetson’s on U Street, but it won’t be a sporadic event.
Instead, the sing-along is organized by A People’s Choir DC, a monthly meetup group devoted to hosting public singing sessions.
“A People’s Choir DC is a casual sing-along,” reads the event’s Facebook page. “It isn’t a performance; it’s a group effort.”
The idea works like this: People get together at a bar, order drinks and sing loudly over popular songs. And, well, that’s about it.
Each month, the group belts out tunes related to a specific theme. This month’s sing-along is an ode to D.C. weather, and as such, the group will sing along with such songs as Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” and “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and the Papas.
Attendees will receive a lineup of the night’s songs and a printout of the lyrics at the door.
Though you might be skittish singing in front of people you don’t know, People’s Choir D.C. founder Jenny Koch says it’s really not a big deal. If you don’t know a song, make up the words. If you want to sit one out and chat, that’s okay too. And newcomers are always welcome.
“Although we have a bunch of people who come regularly, we also get lots of new people every time,” she says.
The singing begins at 8 p.m. at Stetson’s, located at 1610 U Street NW.
Photo via Facebook.com/APeoplesChoirDC; This post features reporting by contributor Octavia Silva