Posts Tagged ‘music’

Story by Fred James. Photos by Matthew Brown and Susan Brown.

It was a fun and music-filled weekend for the James Gang. We had a Saturday afternoon music performance at The Dogwood Terrace Retirement Community. Things were going well during the performance when the unexpected occurred. Our daughter, Phoebe, whispered to my wife, Julie, that she had to go to the bathroom and Julie told me to keep the crowd entertained while she helped Phoebe.

In my surprised state, I couldn’t think of a song to play and sing. I have a nice instrumental of “Just as I Am,” but just as I was, I couldn’t remember what it was. Therefore, I did what I do best, I just started riffing, while I expressed my gratitude to God that we get to play music for audiences like them and then talked about the delicious gumbo that Julie made earlier in the week.

When we all get to heavenWhen Julie and Phoebe got back and we were about to get rolling again, we noticed that Ian was gone. Ian is on the high—functioning end of the Autism Spectrum and has wandered away most of his life. We decided to start the next song anyway, knowing that he would make his way back eventually.

And he did, sliding in like Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.” He grabbed a tambourine without breaking stride and accompanied us on the fly. It was pretty surprising and awesome at the same time! Between helping to set up the equipment, performing and greeting the audience afterward, Ian is really growing and it is amazing to watch. He drives us crazy like any other middle schooler would, but he is also making us very proud.

When we all get to heavenWhen we finished the set, one of our biggest fans in the audience requested “When We All Get to Heaven” for the next time we play. We agreed and worked it out the following morning before heading to church. FBC was hosting the Ebenezer Community Church Choir from Minneapolis. The choir was powerful, flamboyantly-dressed and very LOUD. They sang two songs with help from their energetic band. Also, their contribution to our congregational singing of the Doxology was simply stunning. Julie and I are in the FBC choir and we had to sing after them. We were to perform a very soft and emotive song, which was as far removed from Ebenezer’s as you could possibly get. Then I remembered we were singing for an audience of one—God who loves all kinds of music. Our brilliant music minister, Phil Mitchell, selected our song very carefully and the contrast was quite intentional.

We returned to church that night to attend Ebenezer’s concert. The Ebenezer Choir was fantastic. It took a little while, but eventually most of the audience was on their feet clapping and dancing. When the concert ended, the music continued and a sort of conga line broke out in the front of the sanctuary with everyone, black and white, dancing, laughing and praising God. I would like to imagine that when we all get to Heaven, it will be something like the James Gang has been singing—What a day of rejoicing it will be!

Read related story, Turning the Loss of War into Hope.

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Story and photos by Becky Payne.

“Hausmusik” is not exactly an everyday word in our language, but translated from the German it simply means “music in the home.” Years ago Bernice Rodgerson began inviting friends and neighbors to her home for music programs, which were mostly classical piano solos and duets, played by Bernice and a friend or her teacher. After the music, there was always a time of fellowship and refreshment.

HausmusikWhen Bernice and her husband moved to Lakewood Manor, she continued her practice of Hausmusik programs in the Simms Center. It was at this time she began inviting her grandchildren who played guitar, piano and violin to join her. She accompanied them at the piano, but she continued her piano solos and duets with her teacher.

This might not sound unusual until you discover that Bernice began presenting these programs when she was nearly 80. Today, at 92, she continues to present her yearly Hausmusik program at Lakewood.

Bernice’s love for music began when she was a child. Her family had a piano but could not afford music lessons. A neighbor took interest in her, taught her the names of the notes on the keyboard, how to place her hands on the notes, and a few music basics. Encouraged, and with a little bit of knowledge, she took a hymnal and taught herself to play.

HausmusikHer first formal piano lesson didn’t occur until she was a junior in high school. In spite of her somewhat late start Bernice entered college, majored in music, and graduated from Georgetown College in Kentucky prepared to teach.

It was at Georgetown that Bernice met her husband Phil. After “Dr. Phil” graduated from Louisville Seminary they moved to Richmond for him to become the founding pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church. In addition to her roles as pastor’s wife and mother to their children, Bernice taught school and piano lessons.


Bernice still lives at Lakewood and is actively involved in the life of that community, as well as the life of First Baptist Church where she is now a member. At Lakewood she plays piano for Sunday morning worship in Healthcare one Sunday each month and participates in a weekly Bible study. Though she isn’t often in attendance at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, she watches the webcast each week, continues to participate in Women on Mission, and is part of the Congregational Care Team where she keeps in touch with four of our home-bound members by sending cards and making regular phone calls and occasional visits.

HausmusikAnd, of course, she still plays the piano. It is her goal to practice two hours daily (except Sunday) so that she will be prepared for her piano lessons with her long-time teacher, Mrs. Anne James. Bernice has studied with Anne for more than 30 years, and still looks forward to every lesson. They are currently working on the music they will present in the next Lakewood Hausmusik program this fall.

When asked why she continues to study piano Bernice replied, “To play well is still a goal! It’s something I have to do! There is always something new I want to learn. Studying and practicing puts structure in my days and brings me great joy.”

And, to those of us who know and love Bernice, she brings great joy with her friendship and her music.

Becky PayneBecky Payne, recently retired after 25 years as Organist/Music Associate at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, now serves part-time in Congregational Care. Becky, a native Mississippian and graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, came to Richmond after serving churches in Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi.  She continues to volunteer in the music ministry and to teach a Bible Study at Lakewood Manor.  In her semi-retirement she is enjoying traveling, reading and more time with friends.

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Story by Fred James. Photo by Susan Brown.

I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. I have long contended that it is a legal extortion racket perpetrated by the Greeting Card/Chocolate Industrial Complex. Any link to the actual St. Valentine has long been glossed over in the name of “romance.” Give me a break! With that said, my lovely wife, Julie, and I had an acoustic Gospel musical performance scheduled on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2015 at Glenburnie Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Richmond.

Fred and Julie James

Julie and Fred James

With our two children in tow, we arrived with less than ample time to spare due to the efforts of our four-year-old daughter. When we started setting up, there was a lady parked in a wheelchair where we usually perform and a table with Valentine’s Day refreshments where I usually place the guitar cases. Already a bit mentally scattered, I had to get the instruments and equipment in place while Julie got the kids situated. The room was fairly packed so the children had to sit directly behind us with very little room to stretch their legs. They saw what we saw.

Once we were ready to start, it occurred to me that our capos (clamps placed on guitar necks to adjust pitch and to allow for certain chord-fingerings) were nowhere to be found. I could have sworn that I packed them, but I couldn’t find them. We had to get creative very quickly because we use them for many of the songs.

The day before, I read an article about my guitar-hero Eddie Van Halen. He spoke to an audience at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. about innovation and what it means to be an American. During his remarks, Van Halen referred to “throwing yourself down the stairs and hoping you land on your feet” when performing live. He also stated that it was more important to capture the emotion of the moment than to hit the right notes. When you play as many notes and are as gifted as Eddie Van Halen, the law of averages would dictate that you hit more good notes than bad. Distortion pedals, tremolo bars and inebriated audiences also help his cause. Unfortunately for me, the songs we play are acoustic, the solos are more melody-driven, and I don’t convert guitar keys in my head, on the fly particularly well.

But this was our situation, and Julie and I had no choice but to perform in front of a wheelchair-bound audience, with one of them reminding us that she was hungry. At this point, I referred to Eddie’s comments and said that we were going to throw ourselves down the stairs and try to land on our feet. Julie and I would briefly confer on how to do a song and then were off and running. Some songs she sang higher, some lower, and some I managed to convert successfully.

We were actually doing fairly well until “Love Lifted Me.” We started in the key of A, but it quickly felt too low. We then realized it was in C. No capo needed. Julie did not accompany me on the guitar and instead stood up and “worked” the audience. Immediately, the entire room was singing at the top of their lungs and well within the key of C. At the end of the song a woman kept singing in her own melody “God Lifted Me! God Lifted Me!” I thought of Ben Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama’s “Take My Hand.” The entire song proved to be one of the most purely joyful moments of my life. After the song, I shouted, “We ALL threw ourselves down the stairs and landed on our feet!”

We went on to perform with confidence and emotion and even played two songs from our wedding, “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” We finished with “Amazing Grace” and our son Ian joined us on the ukulele.

At the end of the performance, I told the audience that I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day than with them and glorifying God through music with my beautiful wife. I believe one of the reasons God joined us together as a couple is to make music together for Him. The other reasons were sitting behind us watching the whole thing.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that our Christian walk is a lot like playing the guitar. Spending too much time trying to hit the right notes is like our futile attempts to obey the law. Without heart or genuine faith, we end up making noise, not music.

Author’s notes: I found the capos in my jacket pocket as I was packing up after the show. And the next morning, Sunday, February 15, the first hymn we sang with the congregation of FBC was “Fairest Lord Jesus.”

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By Richard Szucs. Photos by Win Grant.

A new hymnal is coming to Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Celebrating Grace Hymnal is the result of a collaborative initiative by more than 50 Baptist leaders – pastors, church musicians, composers, scholars, and laity – from the United States and Canada.

The Creative Worship Team (see Editor’s note) works with Phil Mitchell, Minister of Worship, to examine FBC’s worship services and identify changes to make them more meaningful and effective. That process led the Team to search for a new hymnal that would include traditional hymns and gospel songs, as well as some of the hymns, gospel songs and praise songs written since our present hymnal was published.

Allen Brown expressed it well: “Some of you who have had about as many birthdays as I have will remember the hymnal we were using in the 1950s. It was The New Baptist Hymnal, published in 1926. Then a Baptist hymnal with many new songs was published in 1956, and we purchased that one. Nineteen years later, in 1975, the next one was purchased. Then, sixteen years later, in 1991 we secured the Baptist Hymnal we are now using, and it has served us well. Now it is 20 years later. Worship styles and patterns have changed and many new hymns and songs have been written since 1991. A new hymnal will make these available for us to use.”

The Team studied a number of hymnals and unanimously selected Celebrating Grace: A Hymnal for Baptist Worship, released in 2010. They were impressed with its editors’ high standards for music, texts and support materials. Each hymn and song was selected both for its musical contributions and its theological soundness. Interspersed throughout the hymnal are scriptures, responsive readings and litanies that draw from God’s Word and offer opportunities for response from God’s people.

Phil Mitchell summarized the feelings of the Worship Team when he said, “The hymnal is a good fit for our congregation because its core contents are at home in a church that worships in traditional worship expressions. It contains some new, more contemporary hymns/songs as well as new, traditional tunes and texts. It is steeped in doctrine that is thoroughly Baptist and uses fresh and imaginative ways to say what we believe. It provides a number of new ways to express our praise and thanks to God in worship.”

All hymnals will be bought strictly through individual donations; no funds will come from the church budget. Donations in any amount are welcome. An individual or group may purchase one or more hymnals in honor or memory of someone for a donation of $15. A hymnal plate will be placed in the front of the hymnal recognizing the donor and the individual who is being honored or memorialized. Donor cards and envelopes are on the kiosks. For information contact Phil Mitchell or any member of the Creative Worship Team, or visit www.celebrating-grace.com.

Editor’s note: Members of the Creative Worship Team are Richard Szucs, chairperson, Barbara Booth, Allen Brown, David Carter, Janet Hauser, Lindsey McClintock, Jim Norvelle, Becky Payne, Martha Pugh, and Ruth Szucs.

Richard SzucsRichard Szucs is a radiologist with Commonwealth Radiology and Chairman of Radiology at St. Mary’s Hospital. He and his wife, Ruth, met at First Baptist Church. Their daughter, Alexandra, will attend Bridgewater College in the fall and their son, Matthew, will enter the tenth grade at Midlothian High School. Richard is a deacon, teaches 11th grade Sunday school, and sings in the church choir and One Accord. He serves as leader of the Creative Worship Team.

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Music and Controversy

By Virginia Darnell. Photo by Win Grant.


Music plays an important role in our worship services today, but it has not always been that way.

John Courtney, First Baptist’s second pastor (1786-1824), loved the great hymns and was editor of at least two hymn books. But during services at FBC, he found that some were paying more attention to the hymnals than to his sermons. His solution was to line out the hymns without using books. (Lining out is a form of a cappella hymn-singing with a leader calling out each line of a hymn as it is to be sung.)

In the archives there are a number of sheets, 3 ¼” x 11”, used during this time with the hymns for the day printed without music. In addition, at the bottom were listings of events for the next week and the following words: “Strangers are cordially invited to remain after the services and meet the pastor.” This also apparently served as the bulletin for the day.

Printed hymnals finally became part of FBC’s worship. The first one was likely Rippon’s Selection, based on Dr. Isaac Watts’ hymnal. It was first published in 1787. That was later replaced by the Virginia Selection of Hymns compiled by Andrew Broaddus. The third hymnal, Winchell’s and Watts’ Selections, was chosen in the mid-1800s.

Musical instruments also made a slow entrance into worship services. To settle this controversial discussion James Thomas loaned the church an organ from his home in 1861. It remained in service until 1867 when a new organ was purchased for the church.

Choirs were not part of FBC’s early services either. The push to organize one produced controversy, but in 1840 a chorister was finally appointed. The controversy was resolved at least partially by his salary being raised by those “favorable to the choir.” A hundred years later the music life of the church was much enriched and strengthened with the addition of primary, junior, intermediate, and young people’s choirs. The chancel choir was organized in 1952, and the first hand bell choir in 1962, with their first performance at Thanksgiving that year.

Hymnals, organs, choirs – all are assumed parts of today’s worship services. But their places have been earned through differing opinions, patience, experiments, and gifts.

Virginia DarnellVirginia came to FBC in 1946 and helped organize the church’s first young couples class and one of the first in the Southern Baptist Convention. She taught singles for 38 years, served on most church committees, was ordained a deacon in 1978, and served as the first woman deacon chair in 1995-96. She is currently Church Historian. Virginia enjoys gardening, painting, cooking, and reading.

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By Becky Kyle.

Vacation Bible School has changed since I attended in my childhood.

I remember going to VBS every summer and learning about God and the people in the Bible. I remember the daily processional with the salute to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible. I remember being in one classroom all morning with one set of teachers, having in-depth Bible study enhanced by activities, crafts and week-long projects. Music, snack, and recreation were breaks from the classroom.

VBS still happens every summer, but much has changed since my memories were formed.

Vacation Bible School morning assembly in the Sanctuary of First Baptist. Photo by Susan Brown.

The most exciting change is the addition of missions as a component of VBS. FBC offers children participation in mission projects that reach people in our own community, throughout the U.S., and around the world. The children have packed gift bags for the leaders of the Boys & Girls Club of Richmond, for FBC’s Community Missions clients and Grace Fellowship participants, for families at the Ronald McDonald House, for local fire fighters, and for FBC’s neighbors and homebound members. VBS children have sent their pennies to relief work for children in Israel and the Caribbean. Last year they prepared blankets and coloring books to fill backpacks for children in Africa.

FBC and Mount Moriah Baptist Church partner to help transport children to Vacation Bible School. Photo by Anthony M. Nesossis.

VBS has become an outreach ministry in Richmond. We partner with Mount Moriah Baptist Church to offer VBS to children in their congregation. We provide transportation; they provide volunteers. We also provide transportation for children from several community centers and from the New American community. As a result, a growing percentage of participants are from families who are not members of FBC.

First Baptist’s Children’s Ministry leaders carefully study and review about ten VBS curricula each year. Through prayer and discussion, they select the one best fitted to our children. Most of these curricula have a secular, fun-oriented theme with children rotating to different classrooms for each activity (i.e. Bible study, music, crafts, games, recreation, snack, missions).

“Finding Hope: A Field Trip of Faith” is this year’s curriculum. The theme is based on Together For Hope, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 20 year commitment to the 20 poorest counties in the United States. Each day VBS begins with worship followed by a Bible study that is the foundation for the day’s activities. Children then take a “field trip” to one of the 20 areas to learn through activities how God’s love is shared with the people who live there. One trip is to Helena, Arkansas, where former FBC members Ben and Leonora Newell serve. FBC partners with them through family mission trips each summer.

Children participate in arts and crafts during VBS 2010. Photo by Susan Brown.

VBS is one of FBC’s best opportunities to share God’s love with children and to help them discover God’s hope in the Bible. It teaches them of God’s love for all people and how to reach out in that love to others. That’s a VBS basic that is exactly as I remember it.



Editor’s note: Some volunteers are still needed- childcare givers with babies and toddlers, a preschool and an elementary teacher, and van drivers. Contact: Candi Brown, Brown@FBCRichmond.org, 358-5458 x150.


Becky KyleBecky Kyle has been attending FBC since she was a college student and joined FBC in 1984. Since then, she has served in many FBC ministries, taught children in Sunday school for the last 13 years, and volunteered with VBS most of the last 14 years. She works part-time for Fleet Auto Tag & Title Service. James and Becky have two children, Sarah and Aaron, who are active in the youth ministry.

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