Posts Tagged ‘music ministry’

By Phil Mitchell

One Accord ensemble

One Accord ensemble

The music of Richmond’s First Baptist Church finds its way from the sanctuary and rehearsal rooms to the community. …and back again. Our church has been blessed by the rich relationships that have been shaped through making music in nursing homes and retirement centers like Lakewood and Covenant Woods, in outdoor settings such as public housing events and at Richmond Squirrels games, in parks, malls, concert venues like Carnegie Hall, and caroling in the neighborhood. Choirs from our church have sung and played in Mexico, Italy, Canada, Romania, Germany, Czech Republic and the United States. As our musicians have sung and rung, they have discovered the common ground of mutual respect and hospitality, and shared in the common language of love and music-making. God has taken us around the world to share his love with his people.

JoySingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

JoySingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

While we have regularly taken music to the world, beautiful music and thousands of gifted musicians have come to us! The revolving door of music has given us the privilege of hearing choirs and individual musicians like Ken Medema, Ovid Young and Stephen Neilson (pianists), George Beverly Shea, State Honor Choirs, The Centurymen, the choir of St. Olaf and other college choirs, and the Kyiv Symphony and Chorus. FBC had the honor of serving as the home of the Richmond Symphony in 2008-2009 during the construction of the Carpenter Center.

FirstRingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

Joyful Ringers at Covenant Woods retirement community

Music inside our church and from our church into the world blooms in the choir room and in the sanctuary. It is planted by faithful servants like Fran Costin sitting in a circle with an energetic group of three year olds, and in the handbell room where Ruth Szucs patiently guides volunteers to make music jump off the page. The choir room is nothing less than an incubator where music is prepared to be set loose into the community. In that warm and welcoming space, singers prepare to lead in worship. In that same room, singers are led to worship while rehearsing!

Men's Chorus at YMCA breakfast

Men’s Chorus at YMCA breakfast

The leadership of our Worship Ministry is continually seeking and discovering both means and places to be the presence of Christ through making music. We are regularly made stronger and richer by our engagement with our community and beyond. These are exciting days as God continues to bless our hosting, partnering, and going, to usher in the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom can be found among us when we sing, sing to God, and sing together. It comes near when participants in FBC’s music ministry are willing to go and share. …and then watch God at work in and through the music. We see God’s Kingdom come near when we go and when others bring their music to us, opening their hearts and inviting us to do the same.

Youth choir at Toronto stadium

Youth choir at Toronto stadium

The Kingdom of God came near when the Youth Choir stood in a cramped nursing home in Atlanta and was suddenly serenaded by a 90+ year old gentleman singing, “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound.” The Kingdom of God came near when the Youth Choir sang the final lines of the Canadian National Anthem in French to an appreciative crowd in the stadium of the Toronto Blue Jays. It came near through the sounds of our FirstRingers on the streets of Slovakia and here in Richmond during Advent at a local nursing facility. It came near on Monday, January 21, 2019 when the choirs of FBC and Mt. Tabor Baptist Church sang “Total Praise,” following powerful, tag-team preaching by Jim Somerville and Herbert Ponder.

Mt. Tabor and First Baptist Church choir

Mt. Tabor and First Baptist Church choir

The Kingdom of God is at hand and we have only begun to sing and hear it resound in our neighborhood and in our world.

Phil MitchellPhil Mitchell has been Associate Pastor for Christian Worship at FBC since 2001. Libby and Phil are both from Nashville, TN and have two children. Their daughter, Erin Thomas, lives in Portland, TN with husband, Olin, and their children, Preston and Caroline. Their son, Austin, lives in Washington, DC. Phil loves to conduct research, read biographies, play golf, and do the dishes.

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Story compiled by Nancy Mairs

Phil MitchellPhil Mitchell, Associate Pastor of Christian Worship at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, is not only an accomplished musician and choir director, but also a published author and composer of many handbell, choral and congregational hymns. He has blessed our church through music since 2001, and along the way found time to earn a Doctor of Ministry degree from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. His ministry to us has been rich, so perhaps the best way to know and understand Phil better is by reading some heart-felt sentiments from those who know him best and have served with him during his time at First Baptist.1

Becky Payne, retired Associate Minister of Music/Organist

“Imagine what God can do with hands that are open, with hearts made new…”
Those lyrics were written by my friend and co-worker, Phil Mitchell, and, we have seen “what God can do…” through Phil’s life. He is an unusually gifted musician, choral director, soloist, instrumentalist, composer, and most importantly, a true minister.

Phil’s wonderful combination of skills has brought meaningful and beautiful music to the life and worship of our church through the years. He has done this by using his skills and training while giving opportunities and encouragement to our youth and adults to share their musical gifts.

I have been privileged to serve with many music ministers, but Phil is the most easy-going and gentle-natured of them all. Musicians are often labeled as “temperamental”—not Phil. I believe this is because he genuinely cares about people—those with whom he serves and those he leads in the music ministry. He has discovered the secret to fulfilling his calling; he blends his giftedness and caring to create a true sense of community and family among those he leads.

We continue to be blessed by his leadership, his music and his servant-heart.

Kathy Thompson, choir member

I have had the privilege of being a member of the adult choir for several years. Every week Phil chooses music that enhances our worship and brings us a little closer to God. Phil’s gifts and talents create an atmosphere of learning and fun, and gives us the opportunity to work together to make music. His knowledge, understanding, and creativity motivate us to better lead our congregation in worship. Phil inspires, teaches, encourages, entertains, loves us and always leads us to become a better choir. Most importantly, Phil makes worship a priority and through his example, our worship becomes more meaningful. Phil Mitchell is a gift to FBC.

Steve Booth, Associate Pastor, Christian Formation

Phil and I first met when I joined the pastoral staff of Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston Salem, North Carolina in 1990. Phil was serving as the Minister of Music and was already a highly regarded member of the Ardmore staff. He was loved by the congregation, especially those involved in the music ministry. In only a few years, Phil had raised the bar musically and was regarded as one of the most effective pastoral ministers on staff. When I was exploring a call to join our FBC staff, I contacted Phil, who had been here for a little over a year. He reassured and encouraged me to come and be part of one of the most gifted and caring pastoral staffs he had ever experienced. I’ve been thankful for his good words then, and inspired and challenged by his wisdom and uncanny insight into pastoral ministry ever since. I’m grateful to call him colleague and friend. And, on the more playful side of his personality, I’ll never forget his love for the characters of the Andy Griffith Show. If you haven’t heard Phil’s impression of Barney or Gomer, you are missing out on the fun!

Devra Powers, choir member

Phil Mitchell wears many hats. Not only is he our “choir director,” he is minister of music, worship planner/leader, composer, teacher, encourager, and spiritual leader. One important part of his ministry is his spiritual leadership. He is a student of the Revised Common Lectionary which is used to guide the theme of our worship services. Phil doesn’t just read the week’s scripture but uses the lectionary in his personal devotional time. He works to incorporate hymns and anthems related to the Lectionary readings into our weekly worship service, and collaborates with other leaders to give order and meaning to each worship service. The way the music, readings, and other elements come together around a central theme in the worship service is not accidental. It is the result of prayer and careful planning. Anthems are selected and rehearsed many weeks prior to the service. Phil challenges us as choir members to expand our skills. He reminds us to not just learn the music, but to really hear and understand the words and meaning of what we sing. And, he encourages us to sing those words with clarity so that they will minister to those who are listening. During choir practices, he shares his heart with thoughts about life and his views of music ministry. Each rehearsal ends with an encouraging word, prayer concerns, and then he leads us in closing prayer. He shared with me that two of his favorite hymns are Amazing Grace and O God Beyond All Praising. No surprise when you also know that one of his life scriptures is from Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.”

So with hands that are open and a heart willing to be made new, our friend and associate, Phil Mitchell, has shown us what God can do, and continues to do through those who love him and are called according to His purposes.

choir rehearsal

1 Phil Mitchell’s daughter, Erin Thomas, contributed a love letter about her dad, Just My Dad, which is too lengthy to include with the other sentiments in this article. Since Erin’s reflections on her dad are too good not to share, you can access them by clicking on the link above.

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Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

It is said that behind every successful man is a great woman, but behind Phil Mitchell, FBC’s Associate Pastor, Ministry of Music, sit two women volunteers who help his ministry run like a well-oiled antique pocket watch. At ages 84 and 85 respectively, Charlotte Brown and Jean Crowder mimic computer programmers but use pencils and legal pads rather than keyboards to input their data.

Unsung but in tune.They meet every Monday morning secreted away in the church’s music library behind the choir room where they are surrounded by more than 1,000 numbered file boxes filled with multiple copies of sheet music, some of which has been used since 1955.

Alton Howell, part-time music director in the 1950s, instituted the idea of keeping copies and a record of the names and dates of every piece of music sung or played at FBC. Ray Herbek, who served as FBC’s first full-time music minister, 1962-1989, refined the process and Charlotte, along with other choir members, started helping Ray in 1988. Since 1992, Jean has been Charlotte’s permanent helper.

Susan Marshall, FBC’s music secretary, orders the music, after which Charlotte and Jean process the acquisitions by sorting and stamping it for one of the church’s six choirs or for orchestral and instrumental pieces. According to Susan, “After they have catalogued the hard copies, they complete a data form with the title, publisher, composer/arranger, library number, voicing, scriptural or thematic emphasis, number of copies, and purchase and processing date. They bring that data form to me and I enter all that information into the computer.”

Unsung but in tune.Both the digital and hand-copied versions are used by the music staff. The computer program is on a shared network and allows staff to sort music by content fields. Searching by composer, by relationship to the lectionary passages of the week, or by music that highlights a certain time of year are examples of how the computer may be used to quickly locate a desired piece.

“Charlotte and Jean’s method is disciplined, methodical, clear and intuitive, and I use it often,” commented Phil. “Each anthem is listed numerically as well as alphabetically. When retrieving an anthem from a file, I can refer to a notation in each box indicating which, if any, anthems are missing. This enables me to track it to the choir member who last used it.”

Because computer hard drives can crash, Charlotte is adamant about the importance of having a written record of the church’s musical purchases. Phil admitted that having the library record greatly reduces the risk of loss and is a comfort. But with the digitized version of the music resources, he is able to check something he needs to know from his office or from his laptop after hours or when he is out of town.

There are always some things a computer cannot do. At the heart of the system organized and run by Charlotte and Jean is the personal touch. A computer cannot punch holes in the music, nor can it insert anthems alphabetically into choir members’ folders. Retrieving music each week and after special performances for refiling is also not a computer skill. The work these women do is invaluable, and without them, chaos would ensue, but they enjoy it tremendously.

“I like order and seeing things in their proper place,” said Charlotte. “I got this trait from my mother so, as a member of the choir, I enjoy helping in the way I was taught.”

Jean continued, “Anything I can do to help the church, Phil Mitchell, and the choir, is an obligation I gladly assume. Plus, since I was an auditor, I too like order so I am naturally good at this job.”

Choir member and Handbell Choir Director, Ruth Szucs, effused about Charlotte and Jean, “They are wonderful, loyal, helpful, organized, faithful, and responsible. Our music ministry fully relies on them. They even anticipate difficulties that may arise with our future schedules.”

And from Susan, “If I had to do what they do every week, I would not have time to do any of my other work. I feel that I am a complement to the work they do, but they are the ones who keep the music library organized and functioning.”

Sing Charlotte and Jean’s praises the next time you see them as theirs is a tune that should not remain unsung!

Author’s note: When Charlotte or Jean is indisposed, Allen Brown, Dot Canipe, and Pat Jones are willing substitutes.

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