Brentwood UMC


Since our household routine has changed, my almost daily walks occur in our neighborhood. It is a great course, mostly flat but a few gentle extended inclines for elevating one’s heart-rate. Just right! The main “loop” is just over two miles, but multiple cul-de-sacs along the route provide good options for extending the experience. I prefer to walk just before the break of day; as an old college professor used to quip -- “well, somebody’s got to help the Lord get the day started.”

Assisting getting the boys (7, 9, and soon to be 13) off to school these days means that I’m usually not able to walk that early, not until after they catch the bus. But later walks offer better opportunities to meet neighbor walkers, some of whom I have seen and waved at many years as I left for work. Just last week I met Joe who has walked our neighborhood for at least fifteen years, but he lives on the other side of the neighborhood and the occasion for connection has just never occurred. It turns out he also retired in 2007 as the exec of the Boy Scouts of America and is an active member of Brentwood United Methodist Church.

This week the boys are on Fall Break with Chris back in west Tennessee, so I was out early this morning and it was great. Apparently all the neighbors were sleeping in, which is fine. I do a fair amount of pre-dawn devotionalizing while walking alone, usually as a result of practicing a hymn I’m trying to commit to memory.

I find that hymns are much like scripture -- the more time one spends with a good hymn, the richer the experience because of the unfolding depth and truth. I have found that singing a hymn is not the same as saying it. I’ve sung (and led) hymns all my life and music certainly beautifies the poetry but, for me, saying a hymn has become the more inspirational practice.

One of my most recent hymns has been “For All the Saints,” maybe selected because we are easing up on All Saint’s Day. Regrettably, that commemoration is not in my Baptist background, but now I look forward to it, particularly since Honey died two and a half years ago. Walking along reciting those five stanzas, it occurred to me that I may miss Honey more in the Fall of the year than at any other time. That’s a little surprising since she was such a Christmas gal. By this time every year she would be well into her Christmas shopping, UPS seemed to begin making daily deliveries to our place, and at least one weekly trip to the mall was part of Honey’s fall liturgy. Even her Christmas earrings were already beginning to squabble among themselves as to which pair would be chosen first to announce the season.

Okay, back to the hymn:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
     who Thee, by faith before the world confessed.
     Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
     Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
     Thou in the darkness drear their one true light.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
     We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
     yet all are one in Thee, for all are thine.

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
     steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
     and hearts are brave again and arms are strong.

I see Honey in every stanza of this old hymn: she now rests from her earthly labor and, in her faithful way, confessed Jesus here to her earthly world. God was, indeed, her Rock, Might, and Light in her well-fought fight and she shines even more now in glory than she shone here -- and that’s saying something! Her earthly strife became fierce and long, but the distant song in her ear made her brave and strong. But the final stanza is the best:

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
     through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
     singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

Since much of the Bible talk of heaven is poetic and metaphoric, we don’t know how heaven really is or how it actually works, but the image of God’s people from all corners of the earth streaming into the heavenly realm for eternity is just pretty cool. And if there’s a welcoming committee at the gate, I’m just sure Honey is there smiling broadly, hugging “red and yellow, black and white,” young and old, male and female, Jew and Greek. That’s just the way she was and I suspect the way she is. That’s worth remembering and celebrating.


- Mark

Welcome Back!

Welcome back! Oh, wait a minute, ‘tis I who’s been out of touch since mid-July – yikes!

My schedule has undergone a pretty drastic change since business has picked up at my house.  Daughter Weslee and three boys now live with me. But my house is WAY too big for just me so that part is working out just fine. Wes and Chris are going through a divorce; they are both doing a hard thing well. In His perfect world, I doubt God intended for there to be divorce, nor in our imperfect world did Wes, Chris, his family, or ours intend it. But under the circumstances, it may well be the best thing for all long-term. It is not mine to approve, disapprove, or judge. It is what it is and we are looking forward not back while making the best of Plan B. (This is not our first experience with Plan B.)

Carolyn, clearly one of the best student ministers First Baptist Church downtown ever had, our forty-year friend, was also mother to Weslee’s best friend, and hubby to Wayne, who at that time traveled nearly every week in his also full-time employment. One day she blew in tardy -- and suffice it to say a bit disheveled -- to a meeting at work proclaiming “what our house needs is a WIFE!” Of course, the meeting went into immediate recess for a good laugh while Carolyn unloaded and regrouped. “Wife” is my new role at our house and three months into it, I’m getting the hang of only some of it. I have a greater appreciation for working mothers, single moms, anyone whose domestic responsibilities include keeping the home fires burning, especially when there are children.

The boys -- ages 12, 9, and 7 -- are great. They are doing admirably well adjusting to their new normal -- larger schools, a different church, learning new friends, split family relationships, Papa, greater cultural diversity, etc. Having several months of “warning” they were coming, I was able to re-purpose some of the house to accommodate them and it is working out fine.  The guys inhabit the Boys Basement Barracks with more living space than they’ve had before; Wes and I are on the main floor. My designated space is a small bedroom within view but with just enough distance from the ebb and flow of activity to provide occasionally required respite. I love my cozy quarters. Apparently so does everyone else because nearly every night some or all of us end up in there visiting or watching TV. It’s great!

Looking back trying to put things in perspective, it appears that all this seems to be yet more manifestations of God at work -- not causing stuff like Wes’ divorce or Honey’s death, but God knowing what was ahead and laying some groundwork even when we didn’t see it going on.  Things like this house -- as new empty-nesters in 1997, Honey and I didn’t need a house this size with a full basement configured as it is. Would Wes and boys have come to live in this house five years ago when Honey was alive? Doubtful. The timing and nature of my continuing employment with Celebrating Grace -- thanks yet again to my ten-year friend Tom -- allows me to be available to the boys before and after school while Wes works full-time at Tennessee Oncology, the major provider of Honey’s last year of cancer treatment. The vitality and convenience of Brentwood UMC less than two miles from our house enables the boys to participate in wonderful children, youth, and music programs and for us to get them there easily. It couldn’t be better. We’re not smart enough to orchestrate all of this -- we had help.

I can’t help but remember the refrain to one of my favorite “new” hymns in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, the first hymn Honey and I shared in our updates --

We walk by faith and not by sight,
     led by God’s pure and holy Light!
Prepare us for the journey, Lord,
     and may we know Your power and might,
     as we walk by faith and not by sight.

Words – Lloyd Larson © 1998 Beckenhorst Bress, Inc.

And these Elisha Hoffman lines penned 150 years earlier --

Oh, how sweet to walk in the pilgrim way…
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day…

- Mark






Party and Pew

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly ten years since I retired as minister of music at First Baptist Church, Nashville. It has been a quick and full almost decade -- a nearly nine-month interim in Birmingham, the Celebrating Grace Hymnal was built and released, continued full-time work for three years until Honey got sick, two years of full-time caregiving, her death, and then back to my current almost full-time work with Celebrating Grace. The hymn line “mingling toil with peace and rest” says it pretty well.

Following a long tenure and in order to give FBC the space and freedom to conduct whatever musical business she needed, I began attending nearby Brentwood United Methodist Church. (Honey and I had visited there occasionally through the years and had said that if I weren’t leading music downtown, I would attend BUMC.) At that time, Honey was still doing her Sunday early morning greeting downtown so most Sundays I was at BUMC by myself. One of the issues I experienced first hand in a new church was “where do I sit?” After trying out several spots, one Sunday I pulled in behind two couples -- one obviously older than the other -- and breaking the ice while sitting down asked of them:

“What happens if I sit here?”

I don’t remember their response but it was warm and welcoming. We exchanged pleasantries so I returned to that same spot behind those same couples several subsequent Sundays between business trips. Hoyt and Marie, their daughter Susan and hubby Boyd became good pre-service visits that I looked forward to. (Hoyt always impressed me with his quoting the Apostle’s Creed from memory.) One day, he asked:

“Do you know who usually sat there?”

“No I don’t.”

“Hap Townes. Did you know Hap?”

“No, but I ate at a restaurant called Hap Townes by Greer Stadium a few times when I worked downtown.”

“That was him!  Hap died recently and his wife Anne hasn’t made it back to church yet.”

It wasn’t long, though, until Anne did come back although I don’t remember that first Sunday or our first meeting. She, too, was welcoming and we became fast friends. 

I began to tell Honey about Anne and when Honey was no longer able to go downtown to greet “her people” she would go to nearby BUMC with me for the early service. With Honey’s special liking for senior adults, I knew she and Anne would immediately connect… and did they ever! Honey loved Anne and Anne loved Honey -- of course.

This past Sunday was Anne’s birthday although her long-time friends Jerry and wife Beata threw a party for her Saturday afternoon at Arrington Vineyards east of Franklin. The weather could not have been much worse but the party couldn’t have been much better. The bright gold helium balloon “0” marked our table in the tasting tent; somehow the “9” had gotten away and floated off… or maybe Anne shot it down. It was cold and wet, but nevertheless a delightful and joy-filled occasion.

That Anne is one sharp, elegant and active gal. She’s a staple in her Sunday School class; is in rotation as a narthex greeter; drives herself nearly any place she wants to go; is on the sanctuary flower team, and who knows what else she’s into… I suspect whatever she wants. 

Anne is also funny. I love sitting beside her on Sunday mornings and as a former Baptist, she quickly takes note when those Methodists strike up a “Baptist” hymn -- they sing it like Baptists, too. My daughter Weslee also loves to sit with Anne when she’s in town. Sometimes I threaten to sit between them so they don’t misbehave. One Communion Sunday morning several months ago, the layperson pinching off portions of the communion bread was most generous with the amounts he gave to congregants who came by his station. Anne, who sits on the aisle of “our” pew, was the last of us to return from receiving her Bread and Cup. Sitting down she “whispered” to Weslee sitting next to her, “He gave me a BISCUIT!” I heard it as did Marie, Susan, and Boyd in front of us and Kent beside me. Well, we all got tickled -- the high and holy meditative atmosphere in our corner was over. During the rest of the service, I’d look up only to see Susan -- still seated -- intermittently bouncing in quasi-reverent muffled laughter. Now every time we have Communion, someone recalls that moment and we all laugh anew.

It is important for people to connect with others at church --large or small. Anne, Kent, Susan, Boyd, Jerry and Beata warmly welcomed me and have become dear friends. I love and appreciate them very much. Hoyt, Marie, and Honey are carrying on together and saving us all a place on the other side.

Our hymn today is one we can ALL sing!

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, dear Anne;
Happy birthday to you!

- Mark

Doing What We Can

You may remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the shawl knitted and given to Honey by a Brentwood UMC “Knit-Pickers” as their pastor adoringly calls them. There’s more.

This year’s Lenten sermon series at that steeple centers around pre-Triumphal Entry events in Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Sunday’s installment was about the woman in Bethany who anointed His head with “very costly perfume of pure nard.” You remember the story, how some of those sitting around were indignant about her wasting what they contended could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus’ response to them was “Let her alone… she has done a good thing to me… she has done what she could.”

The Pastor’s closing illustration making his point of “doing what we can” went something like this:

“On the Sunday we left for Amman, I told a story about one of our women who knitted prayer shawls. She had passed away the week before we left. We took some of her shawls to give to some of the Jordanian refugees we would meet on our mission. After the 8:15 service that morning, one of our men -- I don’t think he’s even a member -- drove home and picked up one of those prayer shawls that had been given to his wife in her last days. He brought it back to church and said, “She would want it to be shared with someone in need.” It was our joy to give that shawl to an Iraqi family. They’re followers of Jesus, who have known great suffering. The husband had seen his mother & sisters killed right in front of him. ‘Jameelah’ he said. It’s Arabic for beautiful.”

When it dawned on me he was telling our story, it wiped me out. Having read my recent Facebook post, sweet Anne, my nearly octogenarian pew mate the past few years, also caught on early into the pastor’s story and gently patted me on the knee just as she used to pat Honey or reach for Honey’s hand when the pastor spoke about personal trials, sickness or suffering. (“Pastor Anne” has a nice ring to it, ya think?)

So Honey’s treasured “beautiful” shawl is now comforting an Iraqi family in Amman, Jordan. Would that please Honey or what! Oh my soul! I can see the bright smile and total delight on her face from here.

Following the meaningful sermon, we came to the Lord’s Table sharing Communion remembering that Christ had done for us what only He could do.

From that service I drove downtown for a later service where our pastor was preaching on Jesus’ pre-Triumphant Entry claim that “I am the resurrection and the life.” To reinforce that truth for us today, the congregation sang these fine words from the Celebrating Grace Hymnal:

When sorrow floods the troubled heart
     and clouds the mind with fears,
     affliction presses from the soul
     the bitter flow of tears.

God’s weeping children raise the prayer:
     “Almighty God, how long
     till tears shall cease and silence break
     and grief be turned to song?”

The voice is stilled, no words express
     the pain that lingers on;
     our prayer becomes a silent sigh;
     all mortal speech is gone.

The Holy Spirit groans in us
     with intercession strong;
     when tears have ceased and silence breaks,
     the Spirit stirs a song.

The sting of death cannot forbid
     the child of God to sing.
The scars we bear may long remain,
     but resurrection brings
     the healing of the broken heart,
     the righting of the wrong.

Our tears shall cease, our silence breaks
      in Christ, the living Song.

Words – Rebecca Turner and Paul Simpson Duke, 1989

So the morning was one of seamless worship – celebrating Honey, celebrating Communion, and celebrating Resurrection.  And the evening – dinner with long-time friends, Don and Janice. “…what have I to ask beside?”

- Mark

Here’s a pretty cool after-thought -- that shawl of Honey’s is having a bit of resurrection itself.  It was “dead” lying safely in the “tomb” (cedar chest at the foot of our bed) for a time but has now burst forth with new life, once again doing what it can. Alleluia!


Recently in this spot we talked a little about one’s outlook on life. Yesterday, I met Exhibit A of the “glass half-full” sort.

Only a few days into my two-month-old morning mall walk routine, Diane, who seems to know all the walkers by name and history, introduced me to Betty, an older woman strolling along at a slower pace pushing a basket cart. That day Diane stopped to visit with Betty and I barely broke stride not wanting to impose on their lady-talk. Since that day I’ve seen Betty off and on, waved and greeted across the other side, and moved on.

Last Monday midway around the “block’ I pulled up beside her and her cart –

“Good morning, Betty. I have a burning question I’ve wanted to ask.”

“Really?” she said looking a little startled and puzzled, but with a smile.

“Are you pushing that thing or is it pulling you?”

Her face relaxed and she snickered, “Probably a little of both.”

“How long have you been walking this mall?”

“I moved here about fifteen years ago and been walking it since.”

“Where did move from?”


“Did you see Atlanta lose the Super Bowl the other night?”

“Yes I did. That was awful, wasn’t it!”

We walked on carrying on a conversation about this and that.  It turns out that Betty’s niece was a member of FBC, Nashville, some fifty years ago and married Robert Denny who, at one time, was General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. I knew Dr. Denny only by reputation. Small world.

Betty and I have both lost our spouses. Her husband ended his long battle with depression twenty-nine years ago by taking his own life. 

“Depression is tough battle and losing him was hard for me. I did all I could trying to help him for a lot of years, but there’s only so much you can do.”

Nearing the mall south entrance, she grabbed her coat in the bottom of the basket.

“Are you done?” I asked.

“Yeah, one lap is enough for a person my age.” 

“Oh, you’re not old.”

“Yes I am and I’m not as healthy as I used to be.”

“Aw, how old are you?”


“You’re not 95!”

“Oh yes I am, every day of it.”

“You are remarkable at 95! You have a bright spirit, you’re friendly, you’re out here staying in shape and visiting with people. Good for you!”

“I’m doing what I can and I enjoy it.”

I helped her finish putting on her coat and resumed my walk as she and her trusted cart headed out the door toward the parking lot. My last lap was consumed thinking about this dear soul with enough zest for life even at age 95 to get up before the break of every morning, drive to the mall to get in a healthy walk. I don’t know if she is a person of faith although her countenance makes me think she is; I’ll find out in a few mornings and let you know.

We probably all hope to have a zest for life as long as we live. If the recent NPR life-outlook guest/guru was correct and the scientific research she referenced is accurate, a glass half-full outlook is something we must practice along the way, ahead of the fourth quarter. For some it will come easier than for others.

People like Betty are an inspiration to me. Perseverance is a word that comes to mind; grit is another. With all she’s been through for as long as she’s lived, I can’t help admire her and marvel at the sparkle still in her eyes. 

Here’s an old hymn in the Perseverance section of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     what a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
     leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peach with my Lord so near,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

[Ok, sing the refrain with me…with parts and echoes]

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
    leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

            Words – Elisha Hoffman, 1887

Sunday, the Brentwood United Methodists sang a bit of that hymn like a bunch of rowdy Baptists. Gregg, their Baptist-trained organist turned that instrument inside out sounding like a single-stanza revival meetin’. It was great! Upon completion and en route to the kneeling rails for the morning prayer, the Liturgist (also former Baptist) remarked “something tells me that’s not the first time y’all have sung that hymn!” He was right and we all laughed in assent.

It appears Betty is sweetly walking in this pilgrim way; observing her encourages me to do the same. 95? Holy smoke!

- Mark

A People Parable

Following seminary, the first pastor with whom I worked was Dr. James Carter -- more than a prince of person and the absolute best pastor for a minister of music practicing his craft for the first time. He was not a musician at all, even struggled to sing, "Happy Birthday," but he knew the difference between cheesy church music and that which had depth; he preferred the latter. His weekly column in the church newsletter and the title of one of his several books was, People Parables. The man could spot a sermonette in a people experience better and quicker than anyone I've ever known. I happened on a people parable today. 

The best thing I've done this past month -- second only to having my kids, grandkids, and brother Randy at my house most of four days AND experiencing some wonderful Christmas music thanks to FBC Nashville and Brentwood UMC -- is beginning to walk Cool Springs Mall in the mornings before heading to the office. I don't give a hoot about the stores and shops, but walking indoors surely beats the winter weather. The very best thing about it, though, is the people -- the fellow walkers and mall caretakers. 

 Today I met one of the caretakers, the gentleman who sees to the indoor and outdoor plants in the place. I had seen and spoken to him in passing for a few weeks, but he seemed like the kind of person who might be fun to know better. 

 "I see you messing with all these plants around here. What all are you doing to them?"

"I get the paper and trash out that people put there. I water them on Thursday, and every three months I spray and wipe down the leaves with a mixture of water and oil to clean them and help them shine."

"Wow, that's a lot of work, but I can't help but notice how nice they all look. How many are there?"

"Inside there are 95, and outside there are 25, so 120 in all."

"I've watched you and it seems like you are pretty gentle handling each one."

"Yeah, they all look alike but they're not."

There was no doubt he was Italian, even before he told me his name -- Angelo. "I'm imported!," he proclaimed. Angelo has been in this country since he was 18, and said you can't really change "my voice" -- meaning his speech pattern and accent -- after about age 12. "But being here a long time, sometimes I can speak like you. I learned it on the street."

"Well, you speak my language much better than I speak yours. I admire you and anyone else who comes to our country and learns our language... since my wife died nearly two years ago, I have a hard time managing eight or ten plants scattered around the house. I think I water them too much."

"I'll be back over here in about twenty minutes. I'll show you how I water them."

We connected back again and now with his watering cart, he took great care showing me his routine and how to gauge a plant's moisture. 

We talked some more and then we both resumed our morning routine. But I'll be on the lookout for him and we may even become mall friends. 

Walking away reflecting on the encounter it occurred to me -- Angelo tends to each plant in his care just as God tends to all "120 of us," giving each of us exactly what we need -- individually. To any other god, we might all "look alike" as Angelo said; but not so to God -- He knows and calls us by name and "all we have needed [God's] hand hath provided." Thanks be to God!

In a few minutes, another delightful thought showed up. My mission at the mall is to walk, but it's hard to get one's walk done when one stops to visit with the people. That's WHAT HONEY DID all those years at the Tennessee Baptist Convention every Tuesday delivering the paper he office produced on Mondays. Lonnie, her boss and dear friend, jokingly (and lovingly) call it her "hall ministry," and that it was. It was her very favorite "task". 

 Here's the first stanza of what may have been Honey's favorite hymn in the God, the Sustainer section of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal.

Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here;

trusting in my Father's wise bestowment, I've no cause for worry or for fear. 

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure give unto each day what He deems best -

lovingly, it's part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest. 

Words - Caroline V. Sandell-Berg, 1866. 

May each of us encounter an "Angelo" soon. 

- Mark

People, Look East

Advent began Sunday and already the songs and services of the season are a blessing. The Youth Choirs – almost 200 teenagers – annual Advent Concert at Brentwood UMC was beautiful and what they do and sing is quite remarkable. And then the Service of Remembrance and Hope downtown at Nashville’s First Baptist Church has always been meaningful to me but, of course, more so since Honey died in 2015.

One delightful Advent hymn I learned while helping build the Celebrating Grace Hymnal is “People, Look East.” It is a fresh, joy-filled text alerting people of earth, furrows in the field, and angels in the air to do their respective things to make ready because “Love – meaning Jesus – the Guest, the Rose, and the Lord is on the way.” The hymn is set to a bright French folk melody that sort of dances off the page.

For ages, east has been symbolic of hope, of new life, of resurrection. In the creation story, God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden. The prophet Ezekiel talks about the east gate of the Temple where the glory of God hovered over them. The magi saw His star in the east, and east is the root word for our word “Easter.”

The sanctuary at FBC, Nashville is a majestic, resonant room, not well-suited for every kind of music, but the absolute best for congregations and choirs to sing. The room itself is part of what kept Honey and me there thirty Christmases in a row. “People, Look East” was not written for our church, but the hymn’s title, if not also its imagery, has something to say to that congregation. You see, to the west of the sanctuary and to the backs of most of the congregation is not only the setting sun, but also the historic Customs House where bankruptcy court is conducted – both suggesting the down side of life. To the south of our campus is the huge and encroaching Music City Center (and soon-to- be three high-rise hotels) housing nearly every form of commerce imaginable, none of which ultimately satisfies anyone’s soul. To our north and across bustling Broadway are the central business district, the state capitol, and entertainment hub which also come up short in life’s matters that really matter.

But in the midst of it all the congregation sits in worship facing east, right into the magnificent resurrection window at the base of which is the baptismal pool – itself a symbol of new life, rebirth, and eternal hope. The massive window is the most abstract of the set of nine. It not only invites the worshiper to face east but also to look up, following the facets of blue, red, and green glass to the Easter lily-like white at the very top, opening upward toward the heavens.

Sanctuary at First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee

Sanctuary at First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee

It is not coincidental that many churches face east and rightly so. But it seems to be more intentional and dramatic in this place.

People, look east, the time is near

of the crowning of the year.

Make your house fair as you are able,

trim the hearth and set the table.

People look east and sing today:

Love, the Guest is on the way.


Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare, 

one more seed is planted there.

Give up your strength the seed to nourish,

that in course the flower may flourish.

People, look east and sing today:

Love, the Rose, is on the way.


Angels, announce with shouts of mirth

Christ who brings new life to earth.

Set every peak and valley humming

with the word, the Lord is coming.

People, look east and sing today:

Love, the Lord, is on the way.

People, Look East - words by Eleanor Farjeon (1928)
© 1960 David Higham Associates., LTD. 


If you are not familiar with this hymn, follow this link and listen:

May this Advent season be a time to begin to “look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.”

- Mark

Sundays and Heart Friends

Honey would have loved last Sunday! 

Our entire married life, actually our whole lives, both of us spent Sunday all-mornings at church -- although she got out of the habit her one year at Baylor. Then, she married a minister of music, and the routine returned in earnest. Even after I retired from church staff music ministry, we continued the practice of spending Sunday mornings at church. And I still do; I just like it and it feels like home. 

Sunday morning church began as usual, at nearby Brentwood UMC 8:15 a.m. service. My pew mates -- Anne to my left, Kent to my right -- and I were displaced one row forward. A children's choir began the service and early arriving parents/grandparents apparently mistook "our seats" for theirs. But, that was okay, and we even "passed the peace" to them at the appropriate time. Nice folks they. Honey would always sit beside Anne; they enjoyed one another, sometimes a little too much and to the point that, on occasion, I had to call them down. Following a wonderful sermon, we had Communion, and then I scooted out to make a dash downtown to practice with Gordon who was singing an arrangement I scripted last summer.

'Twas a big day at FBC. The congregation approved a new ministry plan and also voted to sell a parking lot, half of which we had sold a few months ago using the proceeds of both to build a new education building that fronts and opens up to the now bustling Broadway. There is so much new development in our downtown neighborhood, we needed to improve our house also. FBC hasn't built a new building since the sanctuary in the late 60's for the church's Sesquicentennial Celebration (1970). Hopefully, the new building will be completed in time for the church's Bicentennial Celebration in 2020. 

As our pastor Frank delivered his powerful and personal sermon on congregational unity, I sat there celebrating that our church is a place of grace. Not all churches are; ours is and in large measure because our pastor is a person of grace and has been a model of grace for now nineteen years. Honey would have loved the service and being down there with our forty-year "heart friends" as she would say. 

I pulled in at Rafferty's for Sunday lunch and happened onto my thirty-year friend Lloyd who blurted out: 

"Are you here by yourself?"

Looking around in all directions, I responded, "it sort of looks that way."

"Why don't you join Sue and me?"

"Well, if it's okay with her, sure!"

"Yeah, she's nice and will be glad to have you."

I did, and it was a delight. He even used some of their "milk and egg money" to buy my lunch. Lloyd and Sue have been friends ever since they came to Nashville to become President and First Lady of the Baptist Sunday School Board in the mid-80s. Lloyd was a person whose counsel I sought several times when I was in full-time ministry. Those two are the real deal. 

Driving away in the fall beauty of the day, Honey came to mind. Being with "heart friends," hearing Gordon sing while I accompanied, meaningful worship, and then lunch with long-time friends, I could almost hear her say, as she often did -- "we are so blessed!" Sunday, we found out that a friend is going to have a baby. And they fact that this baby is out of wedlock would only draw Honey toward this sweet expectant mom even more, for one reason, because Honey was also born out of wedlock. There's little doubt that Honey would have traded  her usual Sunday afternoon nap for a trip to the fabric store to begin making a baby quilt for that special one. 

Yep, Honey would have loved Sunday.

Here are some good stanzas we sang downtown during worship -- sung to the tune, EIN' FESTE BURG (A Mighty Fortress is Our God). You know the tune; come on and sing it with me: 

In unity we lift our song

of grateful adoration, 

for brothers brave and sisters strong, 

what cause for celebration. 

For those whose faithfulness

has kept us through distress, 

who've share with us our plight

who've held us in the night, 

the blessed congregation.


For stories told and told again

to every generation, 

to give us strength in time of pain, 

to give us consolation. 

Our spirits to revive

to keep our dreams alive, 

when we are far from home

and evil seasons come; 

how firm is our foundation. 


For God our way, our bread, our rest, 

of all these gifts the Giver. 

Our strength, our guide, our nurturing breast

whose hand will yet deliver. 

Who keeps us till the day

when night shall pass away, 

when hate and fear are gone

and all our work is done, 

and we shall sing forever.

In Unity We Lift Our Song –
words Ken Medema, 1985


I love the images our friend Ken uses in this lyric. He sees many things far better than we.

- Mark

Encouragement and a "Sweet Amen of Peace" Unto All

I'm encouraged. A series of experiences the past couple of weeks, and as recently as worship this morning, lifts my outlook a bit. 

Like you, I am dead tired of all the us vs. them, me vs. you, this vs. the other that seems to permeate every corner of our culture these days. The election year political debate has only risen the expectation that this shall be the new normal. We can't seem to get on with much main business, show much positive progress in the world, or make any headway on serious issues around us because we're wasting our time and energies fighting the other side. And the more talk there is about people at odds with others, the more at odds we seem to become. 

But of late I'm encouraged. Here's why.

The first day of school in metro Nashville, some snafu in the central office resulted in school buses never showing up to pick up probably hundreds of students. The local evening news selected school mom Sarah Galloway to bear witness to the impact on her family of three bus-riding boys. She reported their inconvenience, but rather than throwing the school administration under the bus (that never showed up), she quickly praised her boys' teachers, principals, and those doing their best to fix the problem. Her testimony and photo even appeared in the local newspaper the next day. I was never more proud of a FBC Nashville "child, then teenager" and now a responsible adult in all my life. Sarah gets it!

One early morning last week I happened to do my walk with Dr. Cynthia Croom, the Executive Director of the Metro Action Commission who was telling me about her side job -- a non-profit that encouraged and equips African-American women in leadership positions to intentionally reach out to women of different cultures and religions in an attempt to understand them and hopefully build community with them for everyone's good. 

This past Sunday morning at Brentwood UMC, senior pastor Davis Chappell is in the middle of a sermon series entitled, "Counter Cultural." This week's installment was basically that we need to grow up, quit acting like babies, get along, be spiritual people, and live lives that look more like Christ our sure foundation than the carnal Corinthians in the early church. Then later downtown at FBC, student minister Tim Wildsmith preached a fine sermon about actually doing justice rather than only talking about it, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. 

So I'm encouraged to see and hear some "counter-culture" sticking its head up. Oh sure, wars, rumors of war, and political rhetoric still are with us and will be, but we can all make some difference and have some positive impact as we walk our pilgrim journey. 

I told Sarah the other day her testimony reminded me of a line in the second stanza of "Lead On, O King Eternal" --

"...for not with swords' loud clashing or roll of stirring drums, [but] with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly Kingdom comes."

A "sweet amen of peace" unto all.

- Mark