Strawberries and soul-saving.
Funnel cakes and funneling the word.
Deep-fried goodies and gospel.
It may seem an odd combination, like the Krispy Kreme burger or chocolate-dipped bacon, but for more than a decade, the Bible-Based Fellowship Church Cathedral Choir has brought its gospel performances to the Florida Strawberry Festival.
The choir from the popular church located on Ehrlich Road in Carrollwood returns this Saturday to the Sweetbay Supermarket Showcase Tent at 7 p.m. And maybe the question should be why not, instead of why?
"There are so many people hurting and lost who don't normally find themselves stumbling into our church," said Corey Edwards, director of the cathedral choir. "Our objective is to take our message to a format and venue like the Strawberry Festival so we can spread the good news to hurting and lost people who need help spiritually and mentally."
Of course, Edwards recognizes that when you're competing with tasty smells, wild rides and other entertainment acts, the choir can't show up with reserved hymns and quiet musical meditations.
No, Bible-Based truly brings a joyful noise to its performances.
Last year, after watching my daughter perform with Miss Judy's Dance Academy and devouring a few treats, we were exiting the festival grounds and making our way to the car when the choir's sweet strains grabbed my attention.
We stood outside the gates and watched for several minutes, the contagious energy making it impossible to walk on by — whether you believe or not. The choir delivers its brand of inspiration with rollicking enthusiasm and gospel's trademark call and response cadence.
Others joined us outside the fence but inside, the tent was filled with an audience excited about the musical missionaries.
"At the festival, there are a lot of things designed to draw people's attention," Edwards said. "We're no different. We have to have an upbeat feel in order to garner the attention."
Bible-Based choir also calls on the legendary talents of its pastor, Arthur T. Jones, who has recorded and produced 14 albums with the world famous Florida Mass Choir. Health issues may keep Jones from performing with this group this year, but he led past performances and Edwards said people have come from all around Tampa Bay to hear the songs he popularized with the mass choir.
In fact, it's Jones' reputation that helped Bible-Based become a staple at the festival. As the story goes, a woman who worked as a housekeeper for one of the festival board members recommended Jones after the board member expressed an interest in bringing a gospel act.
Because of the reputation Jones built with the mass choir, Bible-Based earned the nod.
"Once the relationship developed, we've been there every since," Edwards said.
Edwards also stressed that it's more than just singing. The church's outreach team of volunteers go into the audience and speak to people on an individual basis.
In the end, it works. Edwards said a number of people have been drawn to Bible-Based because they saw the choir perform at the festival.
As best as I can tell, the strawberry is not considered a biblical fruit.
But maybe it should be.
That's all I'm saying.