Tag Archive | church music

“Music . . . controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits”

Marian at Messiah organ 4Now is the time to start singing and playing the big, powerful hymns of the church. It all started last Sunday – Reformation Sunday. Our opening hymn at Messiah Lutheran Church was A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. I tried to set the mood for it with a much louder than usual prelude – a simple but bold arrangement of two of my favorite old hymns – A Mighty Fortress is our God and Holy, Holy, Holy. I loved the big, bold start to the service.

We continued with that big, bold style for the hymn we sang during the offering, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, and we ended the service with Lift High the Cross. I played To God Be the Glory for a big joyful postlude.

Pastor Jeff built upon the theme of boldness by talking about standing boldly for Christ, and he included I Have Decided To Follow Jesus as his sermon hymn. In his homily he included the famous Martin Luther quote, to “Sin boldly.” No, it’s not a typo and I just left off the g. It’s not “Sing boldly.” It’s “Sin boldly.” (You may want to listen to the sermon to hear the quote in context. Here’s the link to the sermons. http://messiahchurch.com/media/video/2015-homilies/. Then click on October 25, 2015.)

Personally, my favorite Martin Luther quote is, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. . . . A person who . . . does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God . . . does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” Luther wrote those words in the forward to one of his books, according to Robert J. Morgan in his book Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories.

2015-10-26 Stone Meadows Pond

A picture of autumn in our back yard. I took the photo yesterday when I was grilling hot dogs for lunch.

It’s almost November, and autumn is finally here. Most of the leaves have turned from all shades of green to brilliant shades of red, orange, yellow, and brown. One day last week I picked up the biggest, boldest maple leaf I have ever seen in my life. I brought it in for 94-year-old Anna to trace and color. I had to give her an 11” x 17” sheet of paper for it to fit.

The leaf has started to curl, but Ann was able to trace it when it was still fresh.

The leaf has started to curl, but Anna was able to trace it when it was still fresh.

Big and bold. That’s what I associate with autumn. Big pumpkin fields with thousands of bright orange pumpkins. Acres and acres of golden corn fields and soybean fields. Bold, blustery winds making corn husks fly from fields into back yards and streets in the neighborhood – keeping Floey busy chasing them during our walks.

Big and bold. That’s the kind of music I associate with November. Hymns of Thanksgiving for God’s wondrous love and caring, for God’s generosity to us. Hymns like Thanks Be to God, Now Thank We All Our God, Come Ye Thankful People Come, Count Your Blessings, and We Gather Together.

I spent Sunday afternoon at the piano, playing all the big, bold Thanksgiving hymns I could find to begin planning the preludes and postludes for the rest of the year until Advent, which starts the end of November this year. I had a great time.

Speaking of Advent, I used to be quite self-disciplined and I didn’t let myself play any Christmas music, even at home, at least until after Thanksgiving. But there is so much wonderful Christmas music, one month isn’t enough time to enjoy it all. Now I let myself start playing it the first of November (at home only). But I need to be careful not to allow Christmas music to take away from the big, bold music of autumn and Thanksgiving. God gave us music for all seasons of the year to enjoy and ponder.

I totally agree with Martin Luther. “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. . . .” Thanks be to God!

Ann coloring the huge leaf she traced on 11x17 paper. She told me she wants to include all the colors of fall in the leaf.

Anna coloring the huge leaf she traced on 11×17 paper. She told me she wants to include all the bright, bold colors of fall in this leaf.

Remembering my “times” in Jail

Dane County Jail on the top floors of the City-County Building on Martin Luther King Junior Drive in Madison, WI.

Dane County Jail on the top floors of the City-County Building on Martin Luther King Junior Drive in Madison, WI.

The last couple weeks I’ve been spending a lot of my time working on a new booklet, “Stories from JAIL Ministry: Personal Reflections of a Volunteer.” I recently agreed to speak about the Jail Ministry at a potluck luncheon of the senior citizen club of our church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison. Since I like to write more than I like to speak, I thought having a little booklet to hand out to everyone would be a nice supplement to the things I talk about during the lunch presentation.

Stories from JAIL MinistryI knew that putting together a booklet would be easy and fun for me to do. Most of the chapters were already written. I would simply take the jail-related blog posts I’ve written over the past four years, compile them into a booklet, cut out the ones that seem repetitious, and edit the remainder of the posts to fit into a manageable booklet size. I’m almost finished, and I was right. It was fun!

The part of the process that was the most fun was remembering all the posts I’ve written about worshiping God together with the inmates and the chaplain. It was fun to remember many of the inmates and their life stories. It was fun to remember taking communion together and talking about what that meant to us. It was fun to remember sharing how God was speaking to each one of us at that moment and then praying for each other. It was fun to remember singing together, especially the times I accompanied the ad hoc choir that occasionally formed after the worship service while we waited for an officer to come to escort the women back to their cell blocks.

Yesterday morning, before I started working on the final draft of this booklet, I read the following in Henri Nouwen’s daily devotional book, Bread for the Journey:

The Church is that unlikely body of people through whom God chooses to reveal God’s love for us.

That’s it! As I put all these blog posts together, I realized, these incarcerated women are part of “that unlikely body of people through whom God chooses to reveal God’s love for us.” Through these women’s lives, God’s love and care can be seen. These women are part of the same Church as the people I worship God with on Sunday. And it is through this Church, God’s Church, that we experience and begin to understand God’s love. The apparent difference between the incarcerated part of the Church and the part of the Church that worships God in a beautiful building on Sunday morning is that the incarcerated members are currently in difficult circumstances and those circumstances are obvious to everyone. But we’re all members of the same Church, God’s Church.

GOV065In the past four years that I have been going into the jail regularly to worship God with these incarcerated members of the Church, I have learned to take the words of Jesus more seriously when he said:

I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
[Matthew 25:35, 36, 40 NRSV]

If you would like to receive one of these booklets, send me an email at MarianKorth@gmail.com. Be sure to include your mailing address, and I’ll drop one in the mail for you when the booklet is finished – within the next week or so.

And God Said …

clock - 3 00And God said, “Marian, wake up.”

And I said, “But God, it’s only 3:00 a.m.”

And God replied, “Of course I know what time you think it is. But you have a lot of work to do before the funeral at 11:00 this morning.”

“O God, go away. More sleep is what I need most to be ready for the funeral. Let me sleep.”

“Marian, you can’t go back to sleep. You need to get on the Internet and find some music that you can play, that Mim can sing, and that the grandson of the woman who died can strum his guitar to. I’ll help you find the right arrangement to download.”

“O God, I really need some sleep. I’ll tell you what. If I’m still awake at 4:00 I’ll get up.”

That’s the way my day started a couple Saturdays ago. By 4:00 a.m., I was still wide awake, thinking about “Morning Has Broken.” So I got up, went to my computer, and searched for Youtube videos of that song to hear different arrangements. Then I went to musicnotes.com and downloaded the Cat Stevens version of “Morning Has Broken,” transposing it from the key of C up to E-flat to put it in a better range for Mim to sing.

Morning has broken 4 croppedLet me backtrack and tell you the whole story of what I’ve learned about how we should treat bullies (pushy, persistent people) who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

At church, the Sunday before the funeral, Pastor Jeff asked Mim and me if Mim could sing and I could play the organ for a funeral later that week. It would be either Friday or Saturday morning. The woman who died, had chosen the music she wanted – “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” for the congregation to sing, and either “In the Garden” or “Morning Has Broken” for the soloist to sing. The musical requirements should be easy and straightforward. We agreed to do it, and I suggested to Pastor Jeff that if the family was having a hard time choosing between the two possible solos, to suggest that Mim sing “In the Garden” and I would play “Morning Has Broken” as part of the prelude. We already had that music, so we wouldn’t have to find and learn anything new. If Mim needed to sing “Morning Has Broken” I would need to search for an arrangement that would work for us.

Later in the week Pastor Jeff called me to say the funeral would be on Saturday, and that the family wanted “Morning Has Broken” for the solo. I was a little disappointed, but I immediately started looking for a vocal solo with piano accompaniment for “Morning Has Broken.” Meanwhile, Mim started fighting off a cold, so I knew I had to come up with an arrangement that was well within her singing range, which is high soprano. I quickly concluded that my best option was to enter a fancy hymnal arrangement from the “Celebration Hymnal” into my SongWriter software, and use the software to transpose and tweak the music. The process took me about four hours, but both Mim and I were pleased with the result.

Motorola SmartphoneFriday morning, as I was out walking Floey, I got a phone call. (Mobile phones are not always a blessing.) The caller was “Jack,” the son who was assuming primary responsibility for planning his mother’s funeral. ”Jack” wanted his son “Alex” to play his guitar along with us on “Morning Has Broken.” Thinking about the style of the arrangement I had just created, I told him I didn’t think that would work out very well. But “Jack” knew it would, because of how beautifully both piano and guitar shared the accompaniment on the Cat Stevens version of the song. I tried to tell him that was not the version of the song we were planning to do, but after about ten minutes of conversation, I realized “Jack” was not going to take no for an answer. We ended the conversation with a compromise that we would all get together 45 minutes before the funeral to try playing together. If it worked, that’s what we would do in the funeral. If it didn’t sound good, we wouldn’t. At least we would have tried.

I knew a strumming guitar would not add anything of beauty to the arrangement Mim and I were doing, so I was pretty sure Alex wouldn’t be playing with us. But that got me thinking again about how pushy and persistent some people can be. In this case, I felt “Jack” was a bully who was going to get his way no matter what. He wanted his son to play his guitar with us, and that was that. I had suggested that his son play something else as a solo, but “Jack” couldn’t be budged from what he wanted.

“Jack” was acting just like a family member of another funeral I was organist for this summer. She wanted me to include waltzes and polkas in the preservice music for her mother’s funeral. I didn’t feel that was entirely appropriate for a funeral in a church, but I reluctantly agreed, and surrounded the “inappropriate” music with non-traditional arrangements of hymns that I considered more “appropriate.”

I talked with Mim about how I was feeling about these “bullies” who were adding such unnecessary complications to funerals. I wondered how I should treat people in this type of situation. What I think I was really asking was “How should I treat a bully who is grieving the loss of a loved one?”

Mim replied that she sometimes asks herself a very similar question, “How should I treat a bully who is dying?” Since we provide assisted living services in our home, we have often cared for people as they are dying. Occasionally, a patient or family member becomes quite unkind in the end, acting very much like a bully.

The MessageSo, how does God want us to treat these bullies? The Bible actually talks about that. The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words this way:

If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. …  I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. [Matthew 5:41-45]

That’s what I was thinking about when I went to bed Friday night. I guess after about five hours of rest, God decided to be more direct with me and wake me up. That’s when we had the conversation I described at the beginning of this post.

Mim and I got to the church about an hour before the funeral. We met “Jack” face to face for the first time, and then we met his son “Alex,” a recent high school grad, just back from a week at music camp – for rock guitar. I gave “Alex” a copy of the music I’d downloaded, and we went to a piano in the lower level of the church to see if we could play together. Within 15 minutes of practicing, we felt comfortable in going ahead with it.

It was a beautiful funeral. The church was packed. We did “Morning Has Broken” after the time of family sharing near the end of the service. The congregation was delighted to see and hear the grandson strumming “Morning Has Broken.” “Alex” felt good about playing for his grandmother. It was the kind of good-bye God wants us to share when a loved one goes home. It was peaceful and beautiful. I hate to say it, but it was the perfect music for that funeral.

I’m really glad God woke me up that morning. Now I know for sure how God wants us to treat pushy, persistent people who are grieving, and bullies who are dying, and friends and enemies of all kinds – to love them, to pray for them, and to let them bring out the best in me, not the worst, just like God does.

Morning has broken 5

Shhh. I’m Trying to Quiet My Mind.

Candle orange w Be-Still-and-Know-That-I-am-GodIt’s hard to be quiet in today’s culture of constant stimulation. Worse yet, we take pride in being really busy, and we brag about our ability to multi-task.

So how can we possibly shut out the noise and concentrate on just one thing for ten minutes, or half an hour, or even an hour? How can we “Be still, and know that I am God!” as we are directed in the Psalms. (Psalm 46:10 New Revised Standard Version)

I’ve thought about that quite a bit over the past several years. I guess what prompted that subject to jump into the swirl of thoughts fighting for attention in my mind six years ago was the fact that I was starting up a spiritual retreat center at our farmhouse – what would become Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. That prospect made we wonder what I could do to help create an atmosphere at the farm where people could be still, be relatively free from distractions, and be able to focus on spiritual things.

3 candles and angelOver the last few years I’ve personalized some of those ideas to help me be focused early every morning before I start my normal daily routines and begin to deal with everything else that will jump into my day. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I start my day by reading from the Bible and a mix of inspiring books and pamphlets. Sometimes it’s hard to take time to do that, especially if I know I have a particularly busy day ahead of me, or an early appointment that I need to get ready for. Regardless of how short a time I may have for this devotional time, even if it needs to be just 5 – 10 minutes instead of the usual 30 – 40, I start by lighting one or more candles. That gives me something for my eyes to rest on when I look up from my reading. I usually light three different candles – one representing the Father, another the Son, and the third the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I have a fourth candle that represents me. It’s much better for me to see flickering candles on the small table in front of me than to notice the stack of papers waiting for me on my desk across the room.

Once the candles are lit, I start my quiet time by reading or mentally singing what I refer to as my call to worship. For a long time I kept a card in my Bible with the following words written by Sarah Young in her book Jesus Calling. It’s written as though Jesus is saying these words directly to me:

Jesus CallingSit quietly in my presence while I bless you.
Make your mind like a still pool of water,
ready to receive whatever thoughts I drop into it.

Rest in my sufficiency,
as you consider the challenges this day presents.
Do not wear yourself out by worrying about
whether you can cope with the pressures.
Keep looking to Me and communicating with Me,
as we walk through this day together.

Take time to rest by the wayside, for I am not in a hurry.
A leisurely pace accomplishes more than hurried striving.
When you rush, you forget who you are and Whose you are.
Remember that you are royalty in My kingdom.

That inspires me to be quiet and listen to what God is talking to me about.

More recently I’ve started mentally singing my own words to the praise song, “Holy Ground.”

This is Holy Ground
I’m sitting on Holy Ground.
The Lord is present
and all around is Holy.
This is Holy Time.
I’m praying in Holy Time.
The Lord is speaking
and every moment is Holy.

Floey Candles 3I’m usually sitting in the easy chair in my office. Floey is curled up on the love seat. And the candles are glowing on the coffee table. A crystal angel is bowing next to the candles. I really feel like I am in a holy place. My mind is quiet, and I’m ready to read, think, and pray. Sometimes I jot down ideas that come to me for a future blog post. Very few distractions break into this holy space.

On a related note (pun intended), I’ve also thought about what I can do as a church organist to help worshipers set aside their distractions to be totally focused on being still and knowing God during their time in church. The purpose of the prelude is to do just that – to help people quiet their minds, to be still and focus on knowing God. That’s why I try so hard to find a prelude that relates to the Scripture for the day.

Another thing that helps me get in the right frame of mind for worship is often referred to as the introit or call to worship. In the church where I grew up, the choir always sang the introit at the beginning of the service. That doesn’t happen at the churches where I play now, and I miss it. One of my favorite introits is Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place. Whenever I hear that, I remember that I am in a holy place. That God is present.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place
I can feel his mighty power and his grace.
I can hear the brush of angels’ wings, I see glory on each face;
surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
[Lanny Wolfe]

At any time of the day, when my mind is spinning, and I’m thrashing about from one urgent task to the next, I sometimes remember I’m not alone. God’s here with me, too. I need to stop for a moment and take a deep breath. Maybe that’s the Holy Spirit calming me down. I think it helps that I’ve started my day being still. That helps me remember to ponder how my life fits into God’s world.

Most mornings Floey joins me for devotions. She knows this is a time to curl up on the couch, watch the candles, and be still.

Most mornings Floey joins me for devotions. She knows this is a time to curl up on the couch, watch the candles, and be still. I think God speaks to her, too.

My Musical Destiny

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Seventeen years ago, Mim and I created a new business called Korth-Jacobson, LLC. Within that business structure we have done lots of different things – from being a bed and breakfast to selling real estate; from doing strategic planning and project management for small businesses to providing music in churches and a pub and other venues; from hosting spiritual retreats to caring for the elderly in our home. All of these businesses have been based out of our home. For the past 12 years, one of our businesses has been Country Comforts Assisted Living. We currently care for two 94-year-olds in our home, and we also coordinate the care of a third almost 94-year-old who lives with a neighbor.

By the very nature of this caregiving business, we are working 24/7. Whenever we are at home, we are responsible for being sure the needs of our residents are met. Whenever we are not at home, we need to be sure another caregiver is present to meet these needs. We have finally realized that to meet our own need for a break, we must take some time off, and that means we need to be away from our work environment – away from home. Lately we’ve established the schedule of taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off from about 1:00 or 1:30 pm till about 8:00 pm. Our most usual destinations on these days are Woodmans, Costco, and occasionally Trader Joe’s for groceries; Menards for hardware items; Farm & Fleet for dog treats and toys and for clothes when they go on sale (really!); and resale shops for books, clothes, gifts, and other bargains we “need.” Occasionally we’ll go to a movie if we don’t have any shopping that needs to be done.

A couple weeks ago we redeemed a gift certificate from a good friend and went to see the matinee performance at the Fireside Theater of “All Shook Up.”  We had a wonderful time listening to all those Elvis songs from the 50s and 60s, and laughing about the inter-racial mix-ups and mistaken sexual identity antics. Hearing those Elvis songs from our grade school and high school years brought back one of my childhood memories.

Lowery Organ 2

Lowery electronic organ, state of the art using vacuum tube technology in 1957.

My sister Nancy (11 years older than me) started giving me piano lessons before I started school. I’ve  enjoyed playing the piano ever since. When I was nine, my mom bought a Lowery electronic organ. She had grown up playing a reed pump organ, and she missed playing an organ. A piano wasn’t as much fun for her, although she played it some. When the new electronic organ was delivered to our house I was as excited as I could be. I got to take the ten free lessons that came with the organ from Ward Brodt in Madison, and then I continued taking lessons from our church organist – both piano and organ. But from my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt I learned that any kind of music can be played on an organ – not just hymns. I had to walk through the print music department at the store to get to the lesson rooms, and I always browsed the music on my way out of the store. Most of my allowance was spent on music books with titles like “The Best Hits of 1962 for Easy Organ.” I acquired quite a collection and learned to play songs as varied as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

One Thursday morning when I was about 10 or 11, (I know it was Thursday because that was my mom’s day off) Eleanor Jarlsberg, one of my mom’s friends from church, came over for morning coffee. Mom and Eleanor were sitting at the dining room table drinking their coffee, and I was in the living room playing the organ just for fun, not practicing. I was going through my latest “Greatest Hits…” book. I was playing mostly the slower and quieter songs so that I wouldn’t disturb their conversation in the next room. When I finished playing the Elvis’ hit “Love Me Tender,” Eleanor asked me what hymn that was – she really liked it. When I told her it was an Elvis Presley song – not a hymn, she laughed and laughed, and I felt kind of embarrassed.

That’s when I began to put two and two together to understand that my destiny was to be a gospel pianist/organist, regardless of the type of music I tried to play. I’m not the gospel pianist that my Aunt Edith was who added all kinds of embellishments all over the keyboard. I’m not very good at that. I’m the kind of gospel music player that can play very expressively by varying volume and where on the keyboard I’m playing – high or low – and by sometimes holding a note a little too long to build the tension. I do simple stuff to draw the listener into the emotional message of the song.

Over the years as I learned more classical music on the piano and more traditional hymns and hymn arrangements on the organ, I tried to become more classical in my style of playing. But that was never as much fun for me. But then I noticed that Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” can easily morph into “Jesus Loves Me.” And that “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” can weave itself into Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.”

Beer Barrel Polka sheet musicOne morning last week I had a musical breakthrough. A few years ago, a friend of mine was planning her funeral, and she asked me if I would be willing to play for it. Of course, I said sure. Then she said she wanted the funeral to be a joyous time of celebration. One of the songs she wanted me to play was “The Beer Barrel Polka.” I happen to know the song because that’s one of the songs my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt taught me. But, I’ve felt uncomfortable with that song for a funeral ever since she made the request. My friend died last week. As I was mulling over whether nor not I should play the song, it suddenly dawned on me – if I can morph “Clair de Lune” into “Jesus Loves Me” I certainly can morph “The Beer Barrel Polka” into “Jesus Loves Me.” So I did.

Yup. That’s my destiny. Regardless of what type of music I try to play, gospel is what’s going to come out. God made me that way, and I’ve finally come to whole-heartedly accept it.

Thanks, Nancy, for helping me learn that lesson.

Nancy Koplin cropped

Nancy Koplin, a good friend who helped me find “Jesus Loves Me” in “The Beer Barrel Polka.”

Getting Caught Whispering

The house on the left was my grandma's. The one on the right was the Spauldings. In between was a row of deep red, pink, and white peonies.

The house on the left was my grandma’s. The one on the right was where Gary and Wayne grew up. In between was a row of deep red, pink, and white peonies. Across the street was a park, the perfect place to play – and fish. Koshkonong Creek ran through the park.

On Thursday of last week I played the organ for the funeral of Wayne, a young man, age 64. He was the kid brother of Gary, a classmate of mine. Gary died a few years ago.

Gary and Wayne grew up in the house in Cambridge next door to my grandma. We were never close friends, but we’ve known each other practically our whole lives. After the two boys had graduated from high school, the family bought my grandma’s house, and Gary and Wayne lived there, next door to their parents.

I remember in fourth grade, Gary and I were in the same classroom. We sat in opposite corners of the room. I was always the shortest kid in class, so I was in the front. Gary was always the tallest kid, so he was in the back. In that classroom, the group of kids that seemed to learn the fastest were on the right side of the room; the ones who took longer to learn new things were on the left.  I don’t remember who sat smack dab in the middle of the room, but whoever he or she was must have been the perfect average in height and learning style.

This wasn't my classroom, but it looks a lot like it.

This wasn’t my classroom, but it looks a lot like it.

One day in fourth grade all of us were taking a test. When we were finished with the test we were supposed to bring it up to the teacher’s desk – in the front left of the classroom – and return to our seat and sit quietly until everyone was finished. I remember taking my test up to Mrs. Schuster’s desk, and walking down the aisle to the back of the room, the long way back to my desk. As I walked by Gary’s desk he whispered something to me. I stopped to respond, and we whispered for a minute. I don’t remember what we talked about. We didn’t escape being noticed by the teacher. Mrs. Schuster loudly ordered me to walk to my desk immediately and not to whisper another word. It’s rare that a teacher scolded me and I felt terrible. Gary and I smiled at each other without whispering another word, and I went back to my desk as fast as I could walk without running.

Being at Wayne’s funeral reminded me of that incident. I never knew Gary or Wayne very well, and that’s my loss. The pastor and one of Wayne’s friends talked about Wayne being a gentle giant, a 6’4” quiet, humble man. He had been a custodian at the Cambridge schools for 25 years. He was an usher in the Presbyterian Church. I wish I had known him better.

Wayne Spaulding, age 64.

Wayne Spaulding, age 64.

I would guess there were between 50 and 75 people at the funeral – more than I had expected. At the lunch at church following the funeral, I went through the food line, and then looked out at the tables to find a place to sit. There were two tables with open chairs. A large round table had four or five women seated and two or three empty chairs. A long table had three men on one side and no one on the other side. I didn’t know any of the women at the women’s table. I knew two of the men at the men’s table. They were classmates of mine. I chose the men’s table and asked if I could make the table co-ed. They welcomed me, and I sat down, facing the three men. I didn’t know Jerry and John very well, but at least I knew they were classmates. I introduced myself to the third man, Randy. He said he was a classmate of my nephew Kevin, and that he had briefly worked with Kevin and my brother Danny in carpentry after high school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt turns out I had seated myself at the custodian’s table. All three men were custodians at the Cambridge schools and had worked with Wayne. It was a delightful lunch. I learned quite a bit about the schools from a custodian’s perspective. If I hadn’t joined the custodian’s table, I never would have known about the ghost that occupies the upper floor of the old school. I also learned about the issues our volunteer fire department faces with so few people available to volunteer in Cambridge during the day. Most people work in Madison or in other places away from Cambridge. (Randy is one of the volunteer fire fighters.)

I wish I could remember what Gary and I were whispering about in fourth grade. It’s ironic that the two quietest kids in class were caught whispering and were scolded for it. I wish we had been encouraged to talk with the kids in the opposite corners of the classroom instead of being discouraged from talking. We all lost out on the opportunity to broaden our perspectives on life.

I doubt that I’ll meet Jerry, John, and Randy for lunch on a regular basis. But I’m extremely grateful that Wayne’s funeral brought us together for a wonderful time of sharing. Thanks, Wayne.

And Gary – do you remember what we were whispering about almost 60 years ago? I wish we had continued the conversation sometime later, maybe even 50 years later…

whispering closeup

My Mom’s Wedding Ring

My mom's wedding ring is a simple gold band with seven tiny diamond chips set in the top quarter of the band.

My mom’s wedding ring is a simple gold band with seven tiny diamond chips set in the top quarter of the band.

I wore my mom’s wedding ring to church on Sunday. I sometimes wear the ring when I want to feel that Mom is especially close to me. Often that’s when I’m planning to play some extra special music on the piano or organ at church, and I know Mom would really enjoy listening to it. I usually wear it to church on Christmas Eve when I play lots of Christmas music on both the piano and organ, and lead the congregation in singing Christmas carols.

I wore the ring last Sunday because it was my last Sunday of being an organist of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church. I’ve been half-time organist there for exactly one year to the day. I may still play at East occasionally as a substitute, but I’ve decided to stop playing there regularly, and will be playing more often at my home church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison.

East Koshkonong Lutheran Church is a beautiful old country church about 5 miles southwest of Cambridge.

East Koshkonong Lutheran Church is a beautiful old country church about 5 miles southwest of Cambridge. The sanctuary has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. The organ and piano are in the balcony.

For my last regular Sunday at East, I played an extended prelude, about fifteen minutes. First I played two arrangements of my mom’s favorite gospel songs on the piano – “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and “In the Garden.” Then I played one of my favorite piano arrangements that weaves together two hymns – “It Is Well with My Soul” and “Be Still My Soul.” Then I moved to the organ and played a transcription of “Finlandia” – the original source of the tune for the hymn “Be Still My Soul.” I’m pretty sure my mom was listening.

After church I was honored with a special coffee hour. I was a little uncomfortable with being the center of attention. (I got that trait from my mom. My dad would have loved the attention.) But it really was nice to have so many people come up to me to tell me how much they had enjoyed my playing over the past year. Some of them have become good friends and I’ll miss seeing them regularly. Others I had not met previously, but it was nice to know they had enjoyed my music and they wanted me to know that.

I’m very thankful for the experience I’ve had over the past year of becoming a part of the church family that worships together at East. I guess I’ll still consider the people at East to be part of my “extended church family,” and I’ll look forward to subbing there occasionally to be able to worship together again.

That reminds me of a song written by Bill Gaither. It was a favorite of one of our assisted living residents, Mary Borgerud, and we used to sing it together frequently when she lived with us.

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God –
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod;
For I’m part of the family, the family of God.

My mom liked that song, too. Maybe I should wear her ring more often to be reminded that we’re always in the company of a really big extended family, the family of God.

Moms Ring on hand playing piano cropped