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Our organist this morning

By Clint Smith. Photo by Dean Hawthorne.

Chris Ward is one of those critical behind-the-scenes people often taken for granted. Neither his profession nor his pastime places him under a spotlight, but should one day pass without his service, nearly everyone would notice his absence.

Chris Ward

During the work week, Chris answers 911 emergency calls as Communications Supervisor and paramedic with the Richmond Ambulance Authority. On Sundays, Chris is often heard before he’s seen, filling in for Becky Payne on the church’s pipe organ. Chris, who recently turned 30, is passionate about his trade, his art and his Lord.

Chris found First Baptist Church in early 2004, shortly after moving to Richmond from his childhood home in Roanoke, Virginia. “From the first Sunday I visited, I knew this was where the Lord wanted me to be,” Chris said. “Everyone was so friendly and welcoming.”

Just months after joining the congregation, meeting Becky, and scheduling weekly practice sessions on the sanctuary organ, an attractive career opportunity arose near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For more than six years, Chris served as both a field paramedic and a full-time organist at a large Baptist church.

But despite fulfilling two of his greatest passions, Chris was unsettled. “The hardest thing about moving [to North Carolina] was leaving FBC,” said Chris. “After just two years, I really felt that God was pulling me back to Richmond.” After four years of faithful prayer, the Lord provided Chris a chance to come home; in December 2010, he walked down the aisle to rejoin the congregation.

There aren’t many paramedics who moonlight as organists. How does one choose, and much less master, these two disparate professions? By following childhood dreams. “I always thought I would have a career in public safety,” Chris said. Some gentle nudging at an impressionable age took him in that very direction. “In high school, a few friends approached me about joining the local volunteer rescue squad as an EMT. I agreed and enjoyed it immensely.” The Lord took care of the rest: during his senior year of high school, God opened a door for Chris to become a career paramedic.

That same dedication applies to Chris’s musical journey. “I was interested in the organ since the early years of elementary school,” he admitted. Following six years of dedicated piano instruction, Chris began studying organ at age 14. Countless hours of practice took him from apprentice to where he is today.

Chris doesn’t seek attention or require recognition. Occasionally his name appears in fine print in the Sunday order of worship (“Chris Ward is our organist this morning”), but he’d rather see Christ receive the glory for his efforts. “I am grateful for the opportunity I have to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. My job allows me to ‘be Jesus’: to share His love, His grace and His compassion with people in times of distress. Most of the people I encounter I never see again, but I hope that I was able to bring a little bit of Heaven into their world.”


Clint SmithEditor’s note: Chris and Clint grew up across the street from each other in Southwest Roanoke, and were playing together from age two. They were in the same Boy Scout troop and members of the youth group at First Baptist Church, Roanoke. They remain best friends to this day.

Clint and his wife, Sally Ann, are members of the Young Couples class. Sally Ann is an eighth grade English teacher at St. Catherine’s School and a member of the Richmond Christian Leadership Institute’s Class of 2010. Clint is a full-time student at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary and a member of the deacon fellowship. They were married at the church in 2007 and currently live in the Near West End with their daughter, Bellamy. Clint enjoys live music, cooking, traveling, and spending time with his family.

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