On Metrorail, pastor tries to raise Christmas spirit to morning commute
By Dana Hedgpeth,
On a crowded morning train on Metro’s Orange Line, Fisher Yang, 50, of Centreville, gets his share of jeers, eye rolls and smiles.
Yang, who is the pastor of a church in Shenandoah County, sings Christmas carols two days a week during the morning rush hour on Metro’s five subway lines. Starting at Vienna, he makes his way along the Orange Line toward downtown and then switches onto Metro’s other train lines, singing all the way.
Wearing black corduroy pants, a red and blue plaid flannel shirt buttoned up to the neck and a cross with the pattern of the American flag pinned on the lapel of his sport coat, Yang stepped onto a train, his chest puffed up in anticipation, and made his announcement.
“Good morning. Excuse me. Can I have your attention, please?” he told riders on Monday morning. He cleared his throat and belted out in a bass voice all the verses of “The First Noel,” No. 123 his English-Korean hymnal.
At each station, he sprinted from one rail car to another and started his routine again. He goes so quickly between rail cars, sometimes he loses track of which direction he’s going on the system, he said.
On a crowded Orange Line train leaving Rosslyn, a few riders looked up from books or the ground, rolled their eyes and then looked away.
“It’s annoying as hell,” muttered one rider as she read a novel. She refused to give her name. “I just woke up. I don’t want to hear this.”
A few sleeping passengers opened their eyes and then fell back into a slumber. Some riders smiled. Others pushed their headphones further into their ears as Yang sang. One man pulled his copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” over his eyes as if that would somehow block out Yang’s voice.
“It’s a little bit strange, but that's part of riding Metro,” said Diane Brown, as she rode to Federal Center SW.
Rider Helen Armstrong sang along under her breath.
“I like it,” said Armstrong who is from Coventry, Conn., and was in town attending a nonprofit group’s board meeting in Dupont Circle. She quietly sang along with Yang as she rode the Red Line. “But it would get old if I lived here.”
Metro’s chief spokesman, Dan Stessel, said Yang’s not violating any policy. In 2010 there were flash mobs singing Christmas carols on some Metro trains.
“If you’re standing on a train and you happen to be singing instead of talking, it’s not something we’re going to regulate,” Stessel said.
Singing carols on the Metro train has been Yang’s routine from Thanksgiving through the Christmas holidays since 1998. When he’s not singing on trains, he preaches from the spring until Thanksgiving outside of Union Station. And every Friday in warmer weather, he preaches in front of the White House. Come January and February, Yang gives his voice a rest.
Yang, who is pastor of The Puritan Church in Strasburg, Va., said he’s seen a range of reactions from riders over the years. He’s gone through five hymnal books because riders have walked by and ripped the pages out.
He is undeterred.
“God wants me to sing in front of him,” Yang said. “It doesn’t matter what other people think.”
Yang said he became a Christian when he was a young boy in South Korea after “volunteers from the Salvation Army evangelized to him.” He said he’s partial to “The First Noel” because it “spreads the Christmas message.”
Just as he finished the chorus, a woman got up from her seat, clapped, and gave him $1 . He’s received money before — although he said he doesn’t solicit money.
“I love to tell the story because I know it is true,” he told her. “Thank you. And Merry Christmas.”
More from The Washington Post: