Minister of Music

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

Familarity Makes Sense of the Scary: David Schwoebel on Notes from Susie

David Schwoebel, Minister of Music and Composer

David Schwoebel, Minister of Music and Composer

Most of us are unique creatures of habit - same favorite morning drink to get us going, preferred piece of exercise equipment at the gym, consistent taste buds and regular eating schedules, etc. The sense of routine both grounds us and gives comforting stability to our chaotic lives. At times, life’s consistent, mindless patterns can cause us to do things by rote without a deepening thought of why we do them or what we can truly gain from them. Thoughtless routine can also apply to our hymn singing.

Those who have sung the hymns of our faith for many years have indeed enriched their Christian walk in a grand way! The routine of singing hymns shapes and centers us in our core beliefs. However, most of us could confess to being distracted, at least once, to absentmindedly bellowing out a tune without a true, intelligent connection to the rich, sustaining text being sung. When life’s significant challenges enter our lives we yearn to return to the comfortable, familiar routine and dig even deeper in our faith experiences. Familiarity helps us make sense of scary, unknown concerns. In those sullen, dark moments, hymns of our faith offer us a refreshing perspective and much needed encouragement. An inspired, insightful text, riding on a beloved melody, can sharpen our awareness of the rich theology and profound thoughts we have sung all our lives. Susie and Mark Edwards found these things to be true. 

With their intense love for and knowledge of hymnody, and a totally open ministry spirit, Mark and Susie provided my family, along with the Derbyshire Chancel Choir, a “ringside seat” to their daily walk during Susie’s illness. The old and new hymn texts they chose to close their daily postings were wonderfully poignant and most revealing of their faithful pilgrimage. Many days, without its companion tune attached, the texts shared were viewed from a completely different angle than all the years of singing ever provided. To this day, those groundbreaking realizations re-enter our minds when we sing those hymns. I believe such refreshing revelations are one of the many hallmark artistic beauties and true strengths of God-inspired hymnody. The Christian’s song is never irrelevant and continually offers an enriching experience to each who will routinely mine its deep riches!  

David Schwoebel
Minister of Music and Composer in Residence
Derbyshire Baptist Church, Richmond, VA