FBC Nashville

Age and Stage

I get to plan and lead music for worship in churches occasionally which, at my age and stage, is plenty often. Many of my peers and I have spent way more than half of our lives on the regular, never-ending seven-day cycle that eventually wears down even the best in the business. Ministry in the church is a calling with year-round implications. My hunch, though, is that most in that fraternity look back on music ministry with delight and deep gratitude -- as it should be. 

Joe has graciously invited me to pinch-hit for him in a couple of weeks while he makes an attempt to get a little well-deserved distance from the grind before cranking up a new season mid-August. Early prep for that Sunday has revealed or maybe just reminded me of one thing I miss most about the once weekly routine -- chewing on a sermon text and mining the hymnal for fodder that supports and amplifies it. 

I worked with four pastors at First Baptist Church, Nashville, the longest time (ten years) with our current pastor. It was a blessing to be paired with him because he always affirmed what I brought to scripting services and never seemed to resent it or feel threatened by it. Not every minister is so fortunate. 

For that approaching Sunday, I seemed to have found a perfect matching hymn -- "Lord of All Hopefulness." Although a few years shy of a hundred, it was spanking new to me when we were building the Celebrating Grace Hymnal (#678) ten years ago by now. It has been included in several hymnals but it needed a new tune so we turned to veteran tunesmith -- and friend -- David Schwoebel. Admittedly, his tender and singable melody has no little to do with my choice and love of the hymn. 

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
     whose trust ever child-like, no cares could destroy:
     be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
     Your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
     whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe:
     be there at our labors, and give us, we pray,
     Your strength in our hearts, Lord, at the noon of the day.

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
     Your hands swift to welcome, Your arms to embrace:
     be there at our homing, and give us, we pray,
     Your love in our hearts, Lord, at the eve of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
     whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm:
     be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
     Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

Words – Jan Struther, from Enlarged Songs of Praise, 1931 © Oxford University Press

If we consider only the final phrase of each stanza, we get the idea the hymn is probably about God’s presence in lives all day long. But a closer look reveals that “day” is a metaphor for one’s whole life -- childhood, working years, the “fourth quarter,” and even in death.

The first half of each stanza says something important about a season of Jesus’ life and the second half implores the Father “be there in our…” helping us live like Jesus in our same seasons. It is a well-conceived and well-crafted hymn of faith.

For those who worship elsewhere, that Sunday Frank is preaching from Hebrews 11:20-22 which cites Old Testament Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph -- old guys, all lifetime pillars of faith -- gentle and content at the end of their lives, blessing, worshiping, and recalling the Lord’s deliverance.  Should that not the highest desire of the believers’ heart?

Thinking about all this, it dawned on me that a lot of this hymn describes Honey to a tee, perhaps most accurately stanza four. As she moved toward the end of life, there were extra evidence of gentleness, calm, and contentment borne out of a keen sense of the Lord’s presence which the hymn describes as balm. “Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray, Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.” He sure was and He certainly did.

Thanks be to God!

- Mark

Surely Goodness and Mercy

When the Psalmist, using King James English, declared “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” he said a mouthful! On the surface, one might read that to mean, “from this point forward, God’s goodness and mercy will now follow me to the end of my life.” True, but only partially true -- exactly one-third of the truth and reality. God’s goodness and mercy has already followed us to this point and even is doing so this very moment. It’s an ever-presence in our lives -- past, future, and right now.

It seems that God’s goodness and mercy in our lives is best seen looking back, seeing from whence we have come. The past few days have offered an occasion to review some of my recent past and celebrate again God’s goodness and mercy. 

Ten years ago last Sunday I announced my retirement as minister of music at Nashville’s, First Baptist Church. (I cannot believe it’s been ten years, that is until I recall what all has happened since.) Remembering that pivotal day has caused me to reflect again on primarily two things -- what I joyfully walked away from and equally joyful walked into.

First Baptist, Nashville was the absolute best place for a person like me and of my musical persuasion to do music in church. The musicians, the room, the instruments, the heritage, the people -- magnificent! To realize God’s active presence helping me navigate working with four very different pastors and three interims -- amazing! To love the work that was mine nearly every year over a long haul -- incredible! And to recall how those dear people enfolded, nurtured, and ministered to me and my family for thirty years -- priceless and precious!

Amid all God’s goodness and mercy during those three decades, fourth-quarter stirrings in my soul along with some weariness of the never ending seven-day cycle, I was ready to do something else. But what do almost four-decade veterans of my craft do next? Tune pianos, build organs, sell choir robes?  None of that really appealed to me. I had never thought of building a hymnal, but not so with Goodness and Mercy. That opportunity was placed in my lap and I never saw it coming.

What began as a three-year mutual commitment for me to shepherd production of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal across the finish line and become the face of the project has now reached the ten year mark. Even during three years away from company “active duty” to care for Honey and rebound following her death in 2015, God’s goodness and mercy through the person of CEO Tom McAfee has allowed me to remain a part of this ministry of music/hymnody that has been at my core literally my whole life. What a blessing!

Of course, Honey’s illness and death was a difficult season, but most certainly, goodness and mercy followed closely our every step. Looking back on that stretch of the road now more than two years later, I discover additional ways God’s hand and work and presence was active in the situation. Some of it I didn’t see then but it is abundantly clear now.

God’s presence in the past is relatively easy to see. Lines from two hymns -- “as Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be” and “I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!” -- etched in our hearts and minds help us feel okay about the future. But the growing edge, at least for me, is realizing, celebrating, and putting my full weight down on the active presence of goodness and mercy in the now, in facing daily life this very day -- forming attitudes, responding to situations, making good choices, etc.  We do ourselves a favor when we remember that no matter how well we plan or how in charge of our lives we think we are, life every day is series of steps of faith and that God’s goodness and mercy indwell the believer all the time. Or as John Rippon put it:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
     is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
     to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
     for I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
     I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
     upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
     the rivers of woe shall shall not thee overflow;
     for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
     and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
     my grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
     the flame shall not hurt thee, I only design
     thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
     I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
     that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
     I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!”

Words – John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787

I love the way this hymn is built. Stanza 1 is like a preamble saying that God’s excellent word lets us in on God’s presence and provision for we saints of the Lord. The remaining stanzas provide scriptural snippets as evidence -- foundational to Christian faith.

Surely goodness and mercy follow us ALL the days of our lives even when we are not aware of it or consciously engaged with it.

Thanks be to God!
- 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

Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow

I've been waiting to tell this story for nearly two weeks, but now that Sunday is over, I can. As mentioned in an earlier post or two, for more than two years I have served as chair of our church's Bicentennial Celebration Steering Committee which doesn't happen until 2020. (It takes more time for some of us to get things done than others.)

Early on, we came up with a prop to help our church leadership -- mainly deacons, decision-makers, and gate-keepers -- begin to wrap their minds around two hundred years in order to grasp the significance of the occasion, determine what level of Celebration they expected, and thus would support administratively and financially. The simple prop consisted of a narrow and thin plank of plywood, sixty inches in length, well-sized for demonstration in a committee meeting room, Sunday School department, or even a deacons meeting in Fellowship Hall. Into the plank we drilled holes to place flags as we identified significant events in our almost two-century history -- a sort of visible time-line. And people seemed to "get it."

Our pastor decided the entire congregation should see the presentation and invited us to deliver it in "big church" which we did this past Sunday, some two hundred Sundays before the end of year 2020. The problem though, was our meeting room sized prop would be underwhelming in our some 1500-seat sanctuary; a serious upscale was necessary. 

Last fall I mentioned to Wilburn, church Property Committee chair, that I needed a large rough-sawn timber from one of our older buildings. He said it would not be any problem, that they were preparing to renovate the fourth floor of our chapel building -- a 1927 model. They would be removing the floor down to the joists and would cut out a section of floor joist for our purposes and replace it with a new one. In a few weeks Wilburn reported back all the joists were smooth-planed and thus probably not what I had in mind. He was right! He went on to suggest that perhaps there would be something suitable toward the top of our iconic steeple that sits on the corner of 7th and Broadway and that he would talk to the renovation crew foreman about helping me scout and "acquire" it. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went -- no timber -- and knowing our presentation was slated for January 22, I was getting nervous. Not just any lift could snake into the opening at the base of the steeple, so more delay. Five days into the new year, I told Wilburn that I would come to the church "next Tuesday morning (1/10) after Bible study, meet the foreman with the lift and go up into the steeple myself" to see if there was anything we could use. Foreman Brandon met me there and hoisted me to the hatch door at the bottom of the enclosed part of the steeple. 

There are three or four levels inside that structure, each accessed by a sturdy, well-preserved ladder permanently secured top and bottom. Wilburn had told me, if nothing else, Brandon could take one of those ladders apart and we could use one of the vertical stretchers as our timber. I led the way up the series of ladders to about the third level where I spotted a timber that appeared to be a vertical brace tying in the west and south walls of that 1886 structure. My tape measure three inches thick, six inches wide, eight feet long. Holy smoke, that's almost exactly what I need if we can just get it loose and get it down. Bumping it with the heel of my hand -- what? The bloomin' thing wasn't attached to anything; it was just lying there. I shouted to Brandon on the level below me -- "Found it!" I was so excited. Finally, after these many weeks, we have our timber! We are home free!

We carefully eased it down two or three flights of ladder, onto the lift, and finally to the ground. That timber was beautiful in the full light of day and just what we needed. I carried it into the sanctuary placing it on a couple of flower pedestals, adjusting the height with hymnals to ascertain how tall to build the permanent supports. I loaded it in the back of my SUV and made a couple of stops -- one to order a foot long piece of Plexiglas to match the timber's profile and another to my cabinetmaking friend to make a single carefully placed cut in one end. Sharing the punchline of my project with those two vendors, both were as excited about it as I was. 

Later that afternoon our daughter Weslee called; I shared that story and my excitement about finally having located suitable timber for our presentation. Her immediate response was "that thing was just up there waiting for you, Dad! God was saying 'I've got this!" Her comment stopped me in my tracks. In all my excitement finding, extricating, measuring, sizing, and running around, the thought that God's hand could have been a part of this provision never even crossed my mind. I'm not ready to say that God placed that rough-sawn timber high in that tower and has protected it since 1886 until this day and for this purpose, nor am I ready to say that He didn't. It will always be a mystery and I'm okay with that. Maybe I'll remember to ask Him about it when I get there. 

Here's a hymn about far weightier matters than an eight-foot rough-sawn timber in a historic church steeple, but it does express God's care and provision for us in all of life and beyond. It is based on Psalm 23. 

The King of love my Shepherd is, 
     whose goodness faileth never;
     I nothing lack if I am His
     and He is mine forever. 

Where streams of living water flows, 
     my ransomed soul He leadeth,
     and, where the verdant pastures grow,
     with food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed, 
     but yet in love He sought me, 
     and on His shoulders gently laid,
     and home, rejoicing, brought me. 

In death's dark vale I fear no ill
     with Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
     Thy rod and staff my comfort still, 
     Thy cross before to guide me.

And so through all the length of days
     Thy goodness faileth never:
     good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
     within Thy house forever.

Words -- Henry W. Baker, 1868

If you care to see how we used the timber, see the photo or video below. 

- Mark

Bicentennial Tiber Presentation

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbfKd5u8gmI

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

Once Again, the Dust Has Settled

Once again the dust has settled, but wow, what a weekend 'twas! As far as I can tell, the Susie Edwards Memorial Concert was one total success. Again taking cues from Honey in the gratitude department, here are some people and things for which I am thankful tonight (knowing full well I'll miss something important):

  • All the singers and instrumentalists who went the distance rehearsing and performing magnificently. Many of them came from a great distance to participate and celebrate with our family Honey's life. Apparently, the Herd has not disbanded and a bunch of them are fine singers of "the Christian song."
  • My brother, Randy, who put the very meaningful program together and pulled it off with precision and excellence, and for his assistant, Tina McCartney, whose demeanor is much like Honey's. 
  • The staff of First Baptist Church, particularly Joe Fitzpatrick, Laurie Hall, and Wesley Lankford, who hosted the event and tended to the many details that went with it. 
  • Kim Hester who worked two sides of the three-sided table -- Celebrating Grace and FBC Nashville Music Staff as accompanist. 
  • Weslee and Nathan, their families and in-laws who shared the weekend with me and made it even more special. 
  • Friends from near and far who attended the concert or watched the live-stream to remember and celebrate Honey again, more than a year after her death. 
  • Tom McAfee and Celebrating Grace staffers Janet Jarriel, Kim Hester, and Mary Ruth Welch who have worked tirelessly to bring the Notes From Susie book from suggestion to reality. 
  • Don Beehler, book editor and cheerleader
  • Everyone who generously contributed to the Children's Freedom Choir
  • People who cut me slack signing books last night when I couldn't for the life of me think of their names, people I've known for years. I'm still red-faced! 

I told you I'd forget something important. 

Those are day-after objects of gratitude. The thing that kept washing over me last night during the concert was gratitude that Honey and I were allowed to serve as that church in the first place and for almost a whole career. I sat alongside many women and men in seminary who would have enjoyed serving at FBC Nashville just like we did, but we were given the opportunity. There's only one explanation for that -- GIFT! Whoa, I miss that gal and certainly did during last night's wonderful music. But sitting there perusing row after row of current, former, and distant choir singers, seeing/greeting/hugging orchestra players who played for us all those years, looking upward to that cross-shaped support holding that majestic room together, enjoying the room's natural acoustic that fosters glorious congregational singing of timeless hymns, being inspired by long-time friends Cynthia Clawson singing and hubby Ragan Courtney speaking, then capped off hearing/seeing sweet Somerlie -- who grew up in our church -- play forth her heart and soul flawlessly through that oboe on "Susie's Gratitude" -- oh my soul! GIFT! That's it. GIFT! Like salvation. 

My heart is full. How can I keep from singing?

Notes From Susie books will begin shipping tomorrow from our Macon (GA) warehouse. Thanks for your patience. Production didn't move along as quickly as we anticipated. But they are here now and look great. You still may order via this link: http://www.celebrating-grace.com/notes-from-susie-choosing-gratitude-in-life-s-low-places 


Here is a song written by my brother for last night's concert: 

 As we walk the way with Jesus, many challenges we face. 

Fear, despair, and loneliness sometimes impede the race.

So we hope and pray and listen, always seeking the right choice, 

as we follow Jesus' words and listen for His voice. 

In the middle of the journey Christ comes to light our way.

In the midst of our great trials there is peace. 

In the center of the darkest night there's hope and comfort sweet. 

In the middle of the journey there is peace.

Let us then be true and faithful, giving thanks for each new day,  

showing grace in everything, in all we do and say.

For we know that life in Jesus is much more than here and now. 

Soon we'll gather 'round His throne, and there we'll humbly bow. 

In the middle of the journey Christ comes to light our way.

In the midst of our great trials there is peace. 

In the center of the darkest night there's hope and comfort sweet. 

In the middle of the journey there is peace.

In the Middle of the Journey -- Randy Edwards, 2016

Blessings, dear friends.