Hark, the heckled Pastor sings
On crowded morning Metro trains, Fisher Yang, 50, of Centreville, Virginia, tends to get his share of jeers, eye rolls and smiles.
Yang, who is the pastor of a church in Virginia's 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 Monday morning, his chest puffed up in anticipation, and made his announcement.
"Good morning. Excuse me. Can I have your attention, please?" he asked riders. He cleared his throat and belted out in a bass voice all the verses of "The First Noel," No. 123 in his English-Korean hymnal.
At each station, he sprinted to a different rail car 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 floor, rolled their eyes and then looked away.
"It's annoying. ... I just woke up. I don't want to hear this," muttered one rider as she read a novel. She declined to give her name.
A few sleeping passengers opened their eyes and then fell back into a slumber. Some riders smiled. Others pushed their headphones farther 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," Diane Brown said as she rode to the Federal Center SW station.
On the Red Line, rider Helen Armstrong sang along under her breath.
"I like it," said Armstrong, who is from Coventry, Conn., and was attending a nonprofit group's board meeting in Dupont Circle. "But it would get old if I lived here."
Metro's chief spokesman, Dan Stessel, said Yang is not violating any policy. In 2010, flash mobs sang 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 Metro has been Yang's routine from Thanksgiving through the Christmas holidays since 1998. When he's not singing on trains, he is preaching from spring until Thanksgiving outside 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 has seen a variety of reactions from riders over the years. He's gone through five hymnals 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 has received money before — although he said he doesn't solicit it.
"I love to tell the story because I know it is true," he told her. "Thank you. And Merry Christmas."
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