Do you love to sing Christmas carols?
You are invited to lend your voice to the 2019 May Memorial Baptist Church Christmas Choir!
We are working on SEASON OF WONDERS by Joseph M. Martin
to be sung Sunday, December 22, 2019.
Come join us!
by Joan Maples
September 16, 2019
Words matter. I like good vocabulary and even signed-up for emails that teach me a new vocab word every day. Our choice of words is important. The words and phrases we select to describe God and our relationship to Creator go deep. As a vocational Christian minister, I believe how we speak and sing about spiritual matters is important. Let me explain.
Baptist churches practice specialized terminology that makes sense to folks who grew up in the denomination but may be confusing, even off-putting, to new believers, people from other faith traditions, and folks outside the church. I know you can think of words and phrases we use in worship and prayer that are hard to figure out. Even scriptural references can be difficult to understand unless we unpack them (especially metaphors used throughout the Bible).
Because my primary responsibility is music ministry, I’m very aware of the words we sing when we gather for corporate worship. Let’s be honest: Some hymns espouse really bad theology. As you examine your favorite hymns, I challenge you to ask yourself if the text accurately describes what you believe – about God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Christian community, and love for God and for each other. Be aware of vocabulary that sounds “holy” but is vague and would be hard for a new believer to understand. We who are entrenched in the church often become unaware of how puzzling religious talk is for folks unaccustomed to faith speech patterns and vocabulary. In his book Learning to Speak God from Scratch, author Jonathan Merritt discovered that the sacred terms he used to describe his spiritual life didn’t connect as they had in the past. Words that are deeply significant to us, mean very little to a world unaccustomed to faith discussions; because some terms have developed such negative connotations, they can stop conversation in its tracks.
In my humble opinion, good vocabulary is one thing, but speaking, singing, and writing words that describe a God who loves us first, never gives up on us, and forgives our shortcomings are the most important.
September 9, 2019
The following article was written by Matt Ward, former Middle Tennessee State University music professor, real estate agent, and long-time church choir member. Matt contributed his essay to a book titled Universal Rx: The Hug.
I have a confession to make. For years, despite my dependency on a good “ear,” I didn’t hear what I was singing. That is, I concentrated so hard on singing the right notes at the right time with proper articulation, style, diction, etc., that I paid no attention to the meaning of the words. If you have ever caught yourself daydreaming as you read a book and realized your eyes have robotically scanned every line on the page, but you have no idea what you just read, you have a fair comparison to my singing of anthems and hymns. That phenomenon usually doesn’t happen to me when I read the text of hymns. On the contrary, I am rarely so moved by the Holy Spirit as when I read the beautiful poetry of hymns such as Amazing Grace, It Is Well with My Soul, Abide with Me . . . Even some of the more obscure hymns have brought me to tears just reading their words with no thought as to their musical settings.
When I sang them, however, that was a different story. I didn’t have any real idea of what I had just sung. Perhaps I was too concerned with my own pride of getting it musically correct that I didn’t allow myself any diversion from that concentration. In a way, it was an affliction . . . an obsession with one facet of “why I thought I was there” to the exclusion of all others.
Thankfully the question finally crossed my mind, “Why am I here?” (Here in the choir, I mean.) And the answer was, “This is my witness.” But, the video-recording of our church service and watching myself in the choir on the DVD made me realize I was defeating my own purpose. Here I was singing about God’s love
Joy to the World!, He Lives!, We Shall Behold Him, Face to Face – all these wonderful promises and sentiments! But if this thrilled my soul (which it does), I had to admit someone forgot to tell my face!
For all the expression I was trying to put into my singing, I neglected to put any into my other means of communication: my eyes, my smile, my body language. If I had been a witness in court, my credibility would certainly have been called into question by the jury.
I set myself a goal: to become a believable witness. At first, I had some problems feeling like I was “acting” with insincere smiles and calculated eyes. I didn’t understand why I felt so deceptive because I certainly did believe in what I was singing. And then I realized it was because I didn’t allow myself to believe it as I sang it. I wasn’t listening to the words. They had no meaning at that moment.
I decided to doubt a little of my own indispensability and allow myself the luxury of not concentrating so intently on the music that I was unable to think about the meaning of the words I was singing. I further decided to give up a little of the security of my inhibitions and allow myself to show the feelings those words caused me to feel. Finally, I felt like a credible witness!
I had a dear pastor who once gave an admonishment but softened it with the admission that when he pointed his finger at others there were three bent pointing back at himself. Forgive me if I point out there are many others in church choirs that need to start listening to what they are singing. Accept the blessings of those words and let your face communicate it! Most of you have much nicer smiles than I do. I would never get hired for a toothpaste commercial! I don’t even have a very expressive face. Those of you who have been given more than one talent must not bury that which God has given you! Question the need for such propriety that we cannot show our emotions. It’s a great feeling to be singing There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in This Place and to smile and think, “Yes, there really is!”
Now I can smile with sincerity and weep without guilt. Now I can show joy and pathos as the words express it because I truly feel it. Sometimes, the feeling is so intense I can’t go on and I have to drop out for a few bars. Perhaps this happens to you, too. I hope it does. If not, I hope it will. Like choirs’ stagger breathing there will be enough to carry on, that each of us can be spared our moment. And if Holy Spirit ever does come over everyone in the choir at once, I think the silence would be the most beautiful anthem the church ever heard!
P.S. Consider this from Wondrous Depth by Ellen F. Davis, “. . . and therefore I return often to this endeavor of raising your hearts, dilating your hearts with a holy joy, joy in the Holy Ghost, for ‘under the shadow of his wings,’ you may, you should, ‘rejoice.’”
Make a joyful noise – and face – every day! 😊
September 2, 2019
Originally September (in Latin, septem means “seven”) named the seventh month of the ancient Roman year which began in March. September in the Southern Hemisphere is the seasonal equivalent of March in the Northern Hemisphere. September begins on the same day of the week as December every year because there are 91 days separating September and December. Labor Day is observed on the first Monday in September in the United States and Canada. September 21 is the International Day of Peace. September's birthstone is the sapphire. “Sapphire” means “clear thinking.” The birth flowers for September are the forget-me-not, morning glory, and aster.
“Worship is . . .
. . . the most important work of the church. The people of God exist to serve God. No higher service to God is possible than the worship of God.
“Worship always must be understood theologically rather than functionally. Worship is an end in itself. To attempt the worship of God for any other purpose than glorifying God compromises worship. Worship is not meant to promote an institution, to publicize a program, or to elevate any person, but to exalt God. Worship is not a self-serving experience but a God-serving endeavor.” Quotes from C. Welton Gaddy, The Gift of Worship
“Work and worship are integrally related in a Christian’s life. Worship is a form of work – liturgy is the “work of the people” – and work properly done is a form of worship.” Quote from Worship – A Symphony for the Senses, Volume 2 by C. Welton Gaddy and Don W. Nixon
Anticipating a wonderful church year of worship and work at May Memorial!
August 26, 2019
Hard to believe another church year is coming to a close. September 1, 2019 (neatly positioned on a Sunday) invites us to move forward with vigor, fresh ideas, and new resolve to be Christ’s representatives and to do ministry in his name! Thank you for the past meaningful year of worship at May Memorial Church!
Thank you also for making a time of refreshment and learning available to your vocational ministry team. My husband Terry and I selected a spiritual growth retreat at an American Baptist facility in Wisconsin called Green Lake Conference Center. Coincidentally, I was at Green Lake many years ago as a high school student attending Wisconsin Honors Choir. The buildings from that era have been torn down and replaced with new ones but the barn motif and the beauty of the area remain the same. I think I was able to drink in the holiness of Green Lake much more this time than almost fifty years ago when I was a teenager.
The conference focused on a study of Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson and Bible study of the Book of James; there was free time for reflection in the afternoon. Terry and I looked for and found at least one interesting nugget in each session.
The best part of the retreat experience, in our opinion, was meeting interesting people. The group was a motley crew of folks from all over the country – Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Virginia. Most of the participants were in their 80’s and 90’s and had been coming to this gathering for many decades. The life experiences of these folks were vast, interesting, and diverse. While Terry and I sometimes found ourselves seeing through different theological lenses, we shared much in common: places we’ve traveled and lived, family struggles and loss, valuing education, diminishing physical and mental abilities (our own and those of our loved ones), concern for our country and the world, desire to make a difference in people’s lives, and two ladies were church musicians like I am. The people made the experience rich. We felt refreshed and renewed by the retreat experience, attending my high school class reunion, and reconnecting with long-time friends along the way.
Enjoyed being away, now glad to be home!
P.S. The most unexpected and astounding “small world” experience of the Green Lake week took place during the train car church tour we took while there. The docent was a woman who served on the mission field in Congo for 30 years. Wendy is originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, where she attended First Baptist Church, a church that began out of the train car ministry to that part of the U.S. As Wendy spoke, I remembered one of my dad’s seminary buddies, Melvin Pekrul, became pastor of FBC-Las Vegas; we visited him once on our way to visit my grandpa in Lodi, California. The most memorable part of that visit with Rev. Pekrul was him leading us through a casino, something minors were not supposed to do. Scary! Come to find out, Melvin Pekrul was Wendy’s pastor and he just recently died two days shy of his 100th birthday! I told my mom who promptly texted (with our son’s assistance) a photo of my dad and Melvin singing in the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary Glee Club in Rochester, New York, in the early 1940’s. You honestly never know the connections possible unless you speak and share with others.
July 29, 2019
Hymn of Promise is not included in our Baptist Hymnal but can be found in many other hymn collections. I first heard the tune while serving a Disciples of Christ congregation. Because Mary Ellen wasn’t feeling well on Sunday, we had to make adjustments in worship music; In the Bulb There Is a Flower or hymn tune PROMISE by prolific composer Natalie Sleeth was chosen for the Offertory. Natalie comments about the genesis of PROMISE…
…pondering the death of a friend (life and death, death and resurrection), pondering winter and spring (seeming opposites), and a T. S. Eliot poem which had the phrase, ‘In our end is our beginning.’ These seemingly contradictory ‘pairs’ led to the thesis of the song and the hopeful message that out of one will come the other whenever God chooses to bring that about. Natalie Sleeth’s husband Dr. Ronald Sleeth heard Hymn of Promise shortly before he died and asked that it be sung at his funeral.
Transformation doesn’t just occur at the time of our physical death. Terry Maples reminded us God chooses to bring about transformation in our living in ways unseen by us. Our guest preacher challenged our understanding of the Kingdom of God that is ALWAYS growing, changing, transforming us and the world even if we don’t perceive it.