Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
ef·fer·ves·cent19 years old, visiting with relatives for the weekend, I was seated within the sanctuary of a large church in Durham, NC. I was taking in the scene around me: men, women, boys, girls…most singing, many clapping and swaying…some running…some speaking in languages other than English…a large choir on stage with various musicians and other singers. In spite of the frantic energy in the room, I was feeling the seconds being slowly peeled away from the unknown remainder of the service.
As I sat pining for the lunch awaiting me (the only reason I attended here), I tried to distract my focus from waiting out the unyielding worship leader on the stage and began to note the elements of the environment that frustrated me, that shouted at me, “Look over here! No, look at this! Wow…have you noticed me yet? How could you have missed this one?”
The choir and musicians swelled into a key change, foreshadowing a second wind, and the congregation responded as if they were floating atop carbonated waves….”I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain!”
The heaviness of perfumes in the air underscored the loud garish colors shouting from the dresses and hair accessories of pious women intending to present themselves in modest dress while cajoling around the room in dramatic fashion. Men in stark white dress shirts tucked within shells of dark suits shouted and cheered. Pumping their hands and fists in the air. Shiny belts, polished shoes, awkward ties. The choir whipping up the room into a frenzy of steamy fabrics, misty perfumes, and billowing hair sculptures.
Sigh…such misguided people.
Internally, I was weighing it all harshly and with much frustration bordering on anger. Externally, I smiled and kept time with my foot patting dark carpet and one hand softly tapping a knee. This was my extent of my polite participation while my physical form sat anchored to a pew by a spirit in protest. I encouraged the steadiness of my bankrupt heart with images of chicken and cornbread and mashed potatoes.
I honestly cannot provide an explanation for what happened next. It was as if a television program’s broadcast signal was abruptly disrupted causing an entire scene from the show in progress to be lost…missed…unseen…and the signal suddenly returns, the show is restored, and nothing you’re seeing makes any sense now.
My awareness of sitting in judgement was truncated and suddenly, like a slight of hand magic trick, I find myself suddenly conscious of my body fully erect, both arms sticking up as rods towards the sky, my face turned to the ceiling, eyes pinched shut, hot tears pouring, and the sound of my voice jockeying for position among the congregation singing the words, “I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain! My soul is hungry, I’ve got this aching within! I wanna be washed in the blood of the Lamb!” And I knew that I meant them. I don’t know how, but I knew that these words were, and are, my deepest-to-date plea…my sudden and unexpected surrender to a Christ with Whose story I had been immersed in and fed all of my life.
Much of the remainder of that day’s events are now a blur. I can only recall being baptized at the conclusion of the service. I recall walking out of the church with new eyes, a new mind, an unfamiliar gnawing hunger, and a zealousness for pleasing the LORD that was ef·fer·ves·cent.
That was some 22 years ago. Looking back, I am amazed and humbled by my Jesus. I was attending a college I did not desire to attend. On a scholarship that I did not want. Newly majoring in a field of study that was awkward and causing me much distress. Living a life of scathingly enduring people.
Ironically, within a year’s time of that conversion, I was called into Christian ministry…worship of all things..working with people…an occasional and residing phobia. The one thing that I sat despising in the lives of others…God destined me for it.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
‪#‎mytestimony‬ ‪#‎bornagain‬ ‪#‎spiritualrebirth‬ ‪#‎thensingsmysoul‬ ‪#‎surrender‬ ‪#‎confess‬ ‪#‎befree‬ ‪#‎loveofChrist‬ ‪#‎compassion‬

Where Have All the Choirs Gone? (Part I)

traditional choirFor as far back as I can recall, I have sung in choirs; more specifically, church choirs.  From childhood to today, I have many distinct and pleasant memories of my participation in these structured musical communities organized around some form of transcendent purpose within the framework of Christian corporate worship or community enlightenment.  I would go as far as to say that in many ways, it was through these experiences with choirs and  church choirs that I formed my paradigm of worship, ministry, and choral conductorship today.

As a child attending Bolivia Baptist Church, I clearly remember standing before a gathering of adults, singing with other children and pantomiming the words, “If I were a fuzzy wuzzy bear, I’d thank You, Lord, for my fuzzy wuzzy hair.  But I just thank You, Father, for making me…me!”.  I loved it!  Thank you, Mrs. Sandra Johnson, for teaching and directing us so that we could have that opportunity!  It is one of the few memories that I have from my days at Bolivia Baptist.

children choirAs a youth attending Faith Baptist Church, a split from Bolivia Baptist (gotta love my Baptist roots!), I remember enjoying a variety of musical styles and relationships while singing in both the youth and adult choirs.  Thankfully, I had received an exception from the adult choir director, Rev. L.V. Walton, that allowed me to participate in the adult choir in spite of my age.  (I was about 14 years of age and most members in that choir were probably 40+ years old.  To this day, I will occasionally make the very same exception for other young singers simply because of the exception that I received.)  After being granted the exception, I began attending Wednesday evening service at Faith Baptist simply for the pleasure of attending the adult choir rehearsal that followed it each evening at 8PM.  Thank you, L.V., for providing light to a dark season of my life!  I can still remember singing on the back row between Mr. Willetts and Henry Crisco.  I also still remember Mrs. Margaret pulling me to the side in one of the small rooms just off the stage (that always smelled like old sheet music and hymnals) to share with me her secret for singing when sick:  suck on a lemon wedge.  She had one with her that morning, already cut, and wrapped in a paper towel.

When visiting my grandparents’ church, Town Creek Christian Church, I was allowed to sing in their choir on the rare occasion that they would have one.  The church was Pentecostal and their visible and verbal expressions of worship were always so exhilarating.  I loved singing the song, african choir“Get all excited, go tell everybody that, “Jesus Christ is King!””, while seeing and feeling the congregation’s and choir’s combined excitement.  And when the tambourine came off the shelf inside the pulpit where the preacher, my Uncle, stored it…watch out!  That was a sure sign that we were on the cusp of a Holy Spirit inspired frenzy! 🙂

Throughout my days in college, and serving at Howard’s Creek Baptist, Christ Community Church, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, and Lee Park Church, I have participated in, developed, and maintained strong choral ensembles.  They transcended style and/or demographic and always enriched any non-church event or corporate worship experience.

So, where have all the church choirs gone?  Why do they seem to be disappearing from our church culture, a culture that once found them plentiful and prominent?  As in most searches for answers to problems, there is probably not a singular reason.  In fact, the disappearance of church choirs may not even be the actual problem or, for some of you reading this, an actual problem at all.  What if this shift is simply a symptom of the problem rather than the problem.

What if the question is posed this way:

What has occurred within our understanding and practice of corporate worship services that has contributed to a general diminishing or absence of a once prominent element of participative congregational worship?

What!?!  You’d rather answer “Where have all the choirs gone?” 🙂  Stay tuned for “Where Have All the Choirs Gone? (Part II)”.

I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy

In all the years that I have sung, professional and unprofessional, in and out of church, there has never been another song that I’ve been asked to sing as often as, “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy”. This particular video of my performance is from a day of celebration and commemoration for an anointed minister, Rev. Wiley Martin. I have so many memories attached to singing this song and this is one of my favorites.

I also have powerful memories related to my first time hearing “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy”. The first time that I heard this song, I was about 12 years old, living in Bolivia, NC on “Mud Road” (seriously!), and had never attended a large-scale music concert. One particular evening, my grandparents had arranged to take me to a Bill Gaither Concert somewhere north of Wilmington.

I  remember:

1) riding to the concert with my grandparents, my aunt, and my uncle in their “luxury” vehicle. My mama and daddy were very hard workers and they always provided for all my brother’s, sister’s, and my needs…but my grandparents represented sophistication.  Their cars always smelled of leather, perfume, cologne, and Certs. I loved it! In fact, I always loved the “signature” smell of my grandmother. She smelled stylish, beautiful, and calmly in control of life. When my brother, sister, and I would be waiting for the school bus at the end of our road, she would pass us on her way to work at the bank (UCB in Shallotte, NC). She’d roll the window down on her black Chrysler or black Lincoln town car; her smell would waft from the car window as she would greet us with her bright eyes and delighted smile, handing out Certs and telling us how wonderful we were and how much she loved us. I could write all day about Peepaw. But I won’t, for now. I will add, though, that whenever I walk into a Belk’s store, no matter where I am, and those doors open to the inside, I can smell the richness of the products and perfumes waiting for her appraisal and I always think of her.

2) my grandmother, raised as a Pentecostal, singing alto to every gospel song that played on the radio to and from the concert.  She had a strong, rich, straight alto voice.  She played piano and sang, primarily by ear, for her church.

3) my Aunt, pregnant at the time, wanting to stop for a burger on the way. We were running just a tad late when my Aunt spotted a burger joint and pointed at it with glee, demanding that we stop, and my Uncle, who was driving, also pointing to the burger joint saying, “Baby, wave bye-bye.”

4) hearing Michael English sing, “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy”. I was blown away. I had never experienced such a powerful “church” moment in song, nor had I seen, in person, such a great talent serving the Lord. As the audience was held rapt by the lyrics and performance, my grandmother, seated next to me in the audience, leaned into me and whispered into my ear, “Sugar, one day you are going to sing this song for 1,000’s of people.” (typing this now, I am crying just remembering her say this to me. Man, how I love my PeePaw…she always had such a powerful influence over my life.)  Since the churches I had attended all my life were typically 50 or fewer in attendance, I knew my PeePaw was just being her typically loving and encouraging self.  I could not bear the thought of singing in front of a crowd…much less could I imagine a crowd of 1,000’s.  Nothing in my life was THAT big!  But I still liked that she had said it.

Like the original writer, I do think often of a city called “glory”. I can’t wait to walk upon those streets as my faith in Christ and His word is made into sight. I look forward to seeing all my loved ones that have gone before me. I have great grandparents there, my Great Aunt Faye and Great Aunt Thelma are there, I have a child there…and now I’m crying again. I look forward to seeing the Savior of the world, my personal Savior, Jesus Christ.

At any rate, I’m not sure if my Peepaw meant to say that “I’d sing this song for 1,000’s of people” or that “I’d sing this song 1,000’s of times”…because both incidents ultimately came true. I love that this song has meant so much to so many and that it has provided me many opportunities to share in moments of worship, moments of mourning, and moments of great music with a great many great people.