Marci Update

2017 photo taken by our good friend Gary Bell

A good friend of mine, Dave, sent me an email recently asking, “How’s Marci?” He also reminded me that the “Marci Page” on my website had not been updated in a long time.  He was correct about that. My bad.

Marci, in case you don’t know, is my wife of 52 years now and she has had some unfortunate health issues beginning with a brain tumor that was diagnosed back in 2001. That led to major surgery (a bi-frontal craniotomy) and several months of recovery. Thankfully, she DID recover fully and the brain tumor—while it was large and dangerous but not malignant—never affected her quality of life after it was removed. We have had many wonderful years together since her surgery, for which we are very grateful to God. That is the story which you will find on Marci’s page, as well as a few updates. But they are now several years old.

So, to answer my friend’s question, let me update you on my wife’s condition now.

About seven years ago, Marci began to notice weakness in her right leg. We were at an IBMA conference in Nashville when she struggled to make the short walk between the convention center and our hotel. When we got home, we made an appointment with our family doctor and eventually saw a string of neurologists and other specialists to get a proper diagnosis. After numerous tests, scans and consultations, one of the neurosurgeons recommended back surgery. One of the MRI’s showed a slight bulging of a disk in Marci’s lower back which might be the cause of the problem. So, back surgery was done in June of 2012. She recovered and went into a vigorous physical therapy program to get the strength back in her leg. Ultimately this was not successful. The weakness in her leg persisted just as before.

Meanwhile, she was able to keep her job (she was on the admin staff at College Avenue Baptist at the time) and do most of the things that she enjoyed doing. She just struggled trying to walk more than a few feet. She began to use a walker (which helped) and for the first time, we got a handicapped placard to put in her car.

Over the next several months, Marci consulted several more doctors, neurologists and neurosurgeons in San Diego to find out what was wrong with her. Even though she saw some of the top doctors in San Diego, they were puzzled by her condition. Finally, one of them suggested that we try to get into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a complete physical exam and diagnosis. We agreed and within a few months, Marci’s application was accepted. We booked our flights and made the trip to Minnesota in July of 2014.

Mayo Clinic is an amazing place. It takes up most of downtown Rochester and everyone in the city is connected to it somehow. We stayed at a hotel in the center of town and were given a wheel chair to shuttle Marci from one appointment to the next—all of which were scheduled over the next several days. When we told our primary Mayo Clinic doctor that our San Diego doctors were stumped by Marci’s case, he replied “We don’t do ‘stumped’ here.” He guaranteed that they would solve the mystery and give us an accurate diagnosis.

And they did. It took more than a week of exams and tests but finally our doctor told us that Marci had “Primary Progressive MS (multiple sclerosis).” The bad news: there is no cure. The good news: it’s not a terminal disease and it moves slowly. But it will continue to weaken and cause difficulty walking and performing other physical activities. We have found this to be true. Marci is no longer able to walk, even with a walker.

On the Greek island of Santorini, May 2016

That however didn’t stop us from celebrating our 50th anniversary in a big way (which was two years ago). We went on a Mediterranean cruise, visiting Italy, Greece, Turkey and Spain. The cruise ship was very well-suited for people with disabilities, and on our shore excursions, I pushed Marci up and down a lot of cobblestone streets in a portable wheelchair that we took with us. It was an amazing vacation.

Over the past few years, we have learned a lot more about the disease and have made major changes to our lifestyles. Both of us resigned from our staff positions at College Avenue Baptist, sold our house and moved into a smaller place without stairs or other obstacles. Our new home has been a real blessing to us. Marci can no longer drive, so I am her chauffer and servant, which I am happy to be. Two years ago we purchased a small battery-powered mobility chair that enables her to get around the house, go shopping and have a lot more independence than she would have otherwise. In my opinion, that chair is one of the greatest inventions of all time. We also bought a used Toyota Sienna which was retrofitted to accommodate people with mobility issues. God has been good in providing these things for us.

While the disease continues to weaken Marci’s legs, it hasn’t affected the best parts of her—her beauty, her radiance, nor her determination to make the best of every day. She does have some bad days when the symptoms make it hard for her to function, or she is sapped of energy, yet she remains upbeat and rarely complains. She is a remarkable woman who I love more than ever and despite her disability, she is a real encouragement to me and everyone else she knows.

Some good news: In the last year, the FDA has approved a new medication for people with Primary Progressive MS (the first of its kind) which has proven effective at slowing the progession of the disease. It is not a cure, nor does it reverse any of the symptoms, but Marci was approved to receive treatments (infusions) of this medication and she has now received two. They are very expensive and we are not sure how much we will have to pay (beyond what our insurance will pay) but we are trusting God for his provision as always.

So there’s an update for my old friend Dave and for anyone else who might be interested. I’ll try to keep posting new updates as things change.

 

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MexiGO 2017

So, when you only post one blog per year, I guess you have no right to call yourself a blogger. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about. I do … but I just don’t have the time, or at least I don’t make the time. And in recent years I have become less interested in writing about myself. So maybe I’ll write about about somebody or something else.

But I do feel like I should write something about my annual mission trip to Mexico. This is something I have done now for close to 20 years–first with Shadow Mountain Community Church and now College Avenue Baptist Church. At CABC, we try to take families rather than youth groups, so that parents can experience the awesomeness of serving the poor in Mexico as well as their kids. This trip has the potentiak to disrupt a family’s lifestyle and priorities in a big way.

It’s also good for an old guy like me. This year I didn’t have to be the team leader (thanks Bill Davis!) so I was able to just go and serve along with the rest of the folks who went. It was harder for me to go this year because of my wife Marci’s disability (MS). All of our kids are now living far from us, so it’s harder now for me to leave Marci alone. But Marci’s sister Dixie came to stay with her for the week so I was able to go (thank you Dixie!)

It’s also harder for me to go because I’m not as physically fit as I was twenty years ago. And I don’t like getting out of my comfort zone or putting myself at risk quite as much as I did when I was younger. But I consider this trip to be something of a spiritual discipline for me, something I need to do to exercise my faith and trust in God. Part of me hates the hard work, the time and cost of going on the trip, the inconvenience of living in tight quarters with a bunch of people I don’t know very well, feeling stupid because I don’t speak Spanish, not having the comforts and amenities of home, etc. etc. On the other hand, I need to be humbled now and then and forced to put the needs of others ahead of my own for a few days. I am confident that we do a lot of good in Mexico, but I think that a lot more good takes place in my own soul as well as the souls of other members of our team.

Will I go next year? I hope so, but like I say, it’s getting harder. We’ll see. If you would like to see a video of our team at work (and a few other teams who were there the same week), visit https://vimeo.com/229337401.

 

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Another Great Week in Mexico

the teamLast week I led a group from College Avenue Baptist Church to Ensenada, B.C. Mexico to build a house for a family living in poverty and to conduct a VBS (Vacation Bible School) program for neighborhood children. There were 36 of us in all who went, ranging in age from 4 to 70 (or so).  We had quite a few families on the trip this year—parents with their kids—which is one of our goals.  I don’t think there is a much better way for parents to pass on the values of the Christian faith than to serve together on a mission trip.

I organize the trip at CABC but it wouldn’t be possible without the immense amount of work that YUGO Ministries does before we ever get there. They work closely all year long with local pastors in Mexico to identify families in desperate need of housing and get things ready for us. By the time we arrive, the slab has been poured and the building materials are all in place. All we have to do is provide the labor and get to work. YUGO also provides a top-notch base camp where we are given sleeping accommodations, meals and times of worship and teaching from the staff.

puerta de cieloThis year we worked with Pastor Carlos Santana of the Puerto del Cielo church (an Assembly of God congregation) just southeast of Ensenada.  The family of five who we built the house for lived a short distance from the church in a deplorable dirt floor shack with a tarp for a roof and walls made from sticks and scraps of plywood. When we arrived, they told us through an interpreter “We have been praying for this for a very long time.” It is an awesome experience to be the answer to someone’s prayers.

house & shackWe built the house in just four days (Monday through Thursday) and like most YUGO houses, it turned out to be a beautiful home—complete with a functioning kitchen (stove and refrigerator), table and chairs, bunk beds, area rugs on the floor and other amenities.  We presented the family with the keys to their new home on Thursday afternoon and while I’ve witnessed this scene many times before, I’m always deeply moved by the joy that a simple three-room house can bring to a family who have never had one. I can only imagine how they must feel every night as they turn out the lights and go to sleep on those soft new mattresses under a strong roof and surrounded by solid walls that won’t fall down.

kids at VBSBecause the Puerto del Cielo church is located in a heavily populated neighborhood, our VBS program attracted more than 150 children. We weren’t prepared for that many kids but we managed to stretch our resources and make it all work. Children came from all over the neighborhood to play games with us, sing songs and hear Bible lessons prepared by our team. It was thrilling to hear the children recite Bible verses from memory yo yoand listen so well to stories about Jesus. This year we gave all the children t-shirts with “Cristo me ama” emblazoned across the front and we sent them home with Bible story books in Spanish that they could read with their parents, siblings or friends.  A Mexican pastor told us a few years ago that he went to a VBS program just like ours when he was a child. “I went for the candy,” he said, “but the seeds of the gospel were planted in my heart.”

I had one little mishap on Thursday afternoon as I slipped and fell onto the gravelly dirt road in front of the house we were building. I came down hard and cut a gash in my hand and leg, but I wasn’t hurt too bad. Mostly I was embarrassed. I was moving a little too quickly on the sloping path looking for the keys to the rental van which I had somehow misplaced. I was feeling a bit anxious at that point–and apparently it showed on my face. As I picked myself up and limped over to the van still looking for the lost keys, our construction supervisor Ricardo came over to me, put his arms around my shoulders and whispered “Pastor Wayne, I love you. Don’t be discouraged. Everything is going to be all right.” It’s amazing how Jesus sometimes speaks to us through other people. Everything was indeed all right. The van keys showed up, I dusted myself off and the rest of the day was pretty much perfect.

I’m always exhausted after my week in Mexico, but it’s a good kind of exhaustion. Every year I wonder if I’m getting too old for this … but I keep going back. It has of become a kind of spiritual discipline for me, a way to get re-centered and to have an immersion experience in self-denial and service to others.

taco shop

Our happy place for late night taco runs.

Overall, we had a great week. Thanks to YUGO for making it all happen and thanks to CABC for supporting us so well with finances for the house and lots of prayer support from the congregation. We’ve made plans to do it again next year (same week in August) so if you’d like to go with us, give me a shout.  If you’d like to know more about Yugo Ministries, visit their website www.yugoministries.org.

Below is a highlight video of the week made by YUGO. It includes another church from Irvine (a Chinese congregation) who were also in camp, building a house on the other side of Ensenada. You’ll see many of our team, the children we served, the family and the house dedication.

Summary August 9-11 Irvine Open & College Avenue Baptist from YUGO Ministries on Vimeo.

 

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Legacy Grandparenting Summit in November

I’ve been working pretty much full-time with the Legacy Coalition for the past six months or so planning and now promoting the first-ever national grandparenting conference. The word is getting out and we think it’s going to be awesome. Click on the image below to visit the website. Hope you can come!

SpeakersEmail

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Remembering Merle

merle haggardMerle Haggard turned 79 today and then died. He had been ill for a good while although he was planning to fulfill some concert dates in the near future. Today was also my father’s birthday, who would have turned 95 had he lived this long. Dad loved to hear Merle Haggard sing and so it was quite a thrill when my brothers and I (with our band Brush Arbor) went on tour with him.

We didn’t get to spend much time with him at all on that tour (five shows). We were the opening act and had a different dressing room. But one evening after the concert there was a large crowd waiting outside where Merle’s busses (license plates HAG1 and HAG2) were parked. So Merle ducked inside our dressing room to wait until the crowd was dispersed. He was tired, so he just found a chair and lit up a cigarette.

Haggard Tour

Brush Arbor on tour with Merle, 1973

We didn’t say much at first but after a while we introduced ourselves and made some small talk, some of which turned to the economy. The economy was big news in 1973 and the stock market had recently crashed, there were long lines at gas stations because of an oil shortage, and a lot of people were losing their jobs. As a result, attendance at Merle’s concerts were noticeably down. We were playing arenas that could hold 15,000 people but there were a lot of empty seats.

Merle said,  “I just feel bad for the working man. It’s not the rich people who are are getting hurt. It’s the poor working man. Families can’t afford to put food on the table much less buy tickets to a concert. It’s a crying shame.” He didn’t say much more as I recall.

But what struck me at the time was that his comment was exactly what so many of his songs were about. He really believes this stuff, I thought to myself. This isn’t just a show to him. He actually does care about the people he sings about, those Okies from Muskogee.

So that’s my biggest memory, my lasting impression of Merle Haggard. He was authentic, the real deal. Those kind of guys are hard to find in the music business these days. Rest in peace Merle and thanks for all the great songs you left us.

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The Legacy Coalition

When I resigned my position as Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church last year, I had to keep telling myself (and everybody else as well) that I was NOT retiring. I was simply taking time off from ministry to get our home ready to sell, sell it, find a new home, buy it, and then move all our stuff from the old place to the new (or get rid of most of it, which we did.) The process took nine months and we are grateful to now be in a place that is much better for both of us, especially for Marci, who has MS and can’t get up and down stairs. It’s a nice compact one-level home that we believe God in his mercy provided for us at just the right time.

But now what? What does God want me to do next?

I didn’t have to wait long to get an answer to that question. In May of last year I met Larry Fowler, a 30-year veteran of children’s ministry with Awana Clubs. He mentioned that after becoming a grandparent, he tried in vain to find some decent resources on grandparenting. There were thousands of books on Christian parenting, he said, but only 7 (seven!) that he could find on Christian grandparenting. And several of those were now out of print. So, he was considering the idea of starting a new organization to help fill that void—one that could provide resources and training for Christian grandparents. He wondered if perhaps I could give him some advice—since I had experience in starting an organization providing resources and training for youth workers a long time ago.

Larry’s vision for starting a ministry to help grandparents really resonated with me. I had seen all the research that had been done over the years on spiritual influences in children and youth. Grandparents consistently came in third, right behind mom and dad. After grandparents came significant adults like teachers, mentors, youth and children’s ministry workers. I had spent 30 years of my life helping youth workers, another 20 years of my life helping parents … maybe now was the time to start helping grandparents!

So Larry invited me to a meeting in August of last year in Chicago at Awana headquarters to explore the idea of starting a new ministry to help grandparents.  About 25 ministry people were there, each offering their perspective on the need to help grandparents and what it would take to get a new ministry going. After much discussion and prayer, it was decided to put the wheels in motion to launch what would eventually be called “The Legacy Coalition.”

I came back from Chicago pretty convinced I wanted to be part of this new effort even though it seemed impossible to me at the time. I would have to work entirely on a volunteer basis. There were no funds to support it (yet) so anyone who got involved would have to donate their time and expenses. I wasn’t even sure what I would do. But the vision was compelling and it felt like the right thing for me to do and now was the right time to do it. So after discussing and praying about it with Marci, I said yes to the invitation to become part of the staff of the Legacy Coalition, even without a clear idea of what all that would involve.

We officially launched in January. The board of Awana Clubs International agreed to adopt The Legacy Coalition as a subsidiary until it is able to become independent. This allows us to operate under the auspices of Awana and utilize many of their staff assets in HR, marketing, finance and the like. Larry Fowler recently resigned from his position at Awana in order to be able to lead the Legacy Coalition full time. I am one of several staff members (directors) spread out all over the country. We meet weekly by teleconference. My specific job on the staff is Director of Conferencing. I have been working pretty much full-time planning the first-ever national conference on grandparenting which will be held later this year (November 15-17) in Frisco, Texas (more on that in a later post.) We have another regional conference taking place in May in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Honestly, the Legacy Coalition feels more like a movement than it does an organization. I could write pages on all the cool things we’re doing but I’ll refer you instead to our freshly-minted website here.  Our goal is to see grandparenting ministries start up in hundreds of churches across the country and for millions of Christian grandparents to become more intentional about leveraging the love and influence they already have for their grandkids.

What we need most right now is funding. We are looking for hundreds of people (and churches) who share our vision for helping grandparents and have the means to support us, even if it’s just a small amount each month. None of us will be able to keep this going without some financial support. Meanwhile, we are all working hard and expecting that God will provide if he wants us to continue. I believe he does and I’m very excited and energized by what God is doing already through the Legacy Coalition.

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40 Years on KSON!

Wayne on KSON top 40 chart

On the cover of KSON’s Top 40 chart in 1978

It was on March 7, 1976 that my radio show, The Bluegrass Special, went on the air for the first time.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I have been more nervous.  When the clock hit 6 PM (the original air time for my show) I played my intro music from a scratchy LP by banjo player Carl Jackson, wiped the sweat from my brow, opened up the microphone and said “Woohoo! It’s time for the Bluegrass Special” probably in a very high pitched voice because I was only 13 years old at the time. Make that 30 years old, but my voice was still pretty high pitched. I then played the first song, Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen.”

That’s about all I remember of that first show, because that was a long time ago, folks. On Sunday March 6, we will celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary and begin its 41st year.  That’s a total of approximately 2080 radio shows. I say approximately because my show was pre-empted more than once for special events and there was a two-month disappearance in 1989 when KSON combined its AM and FM stations. At that time, all the programming on KSON-AM went away (including my show). But after hearing from listeners, I was invited back and given the 10pm to midnight slot on KSON-FM where the show has remained ever since.

15 years ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the show with a Grand Ole Opry-style concert and live broadcast from the packed East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon. It was big party and one of my all-time favorite memories. Some have asked if we’re going to celebrate our 40th anniversary in similar fashion? Well, the answer is no. Maybe on the 50th if I live that long and the show survives.

Still, 40 years is something worth celebrating. 40 years of anything is quite an accomplishment. Certainly KSON’s Bluegrass Special has to be the longest-running program in the history of San Diego radio. But it’s not me who deserves the applause. I’ve just been the lucky guy who gets to play the best music in the world on the radio every Sunday night! The real applause should go to the listeners who have kept the show on the air and the terrific folks at KSON. The radio station has gone through four different owners, a dozen or so program directors and the endless ups and downs of the broadcasting industry. Most radio consultants would say (and probably have said) that country radio doesn’t need a bluegrass show. But KSON’s response has been “We’re going to have a bluegrass show anyway. People like it and it works for us.” Numbers don’t lie and the numbers show that we have a good share of the Sunday night radio listening audience. Our promotions director Chris Turner likes to call my listeners “Wayniacs,” most certainly a term of endearment.

So, a big thank you to KSON and all the Wayniacs out there who listen every Sunday night. You have been a blessing to me and to all the musicians and record companies who continue to make incredible bluegrass music year after year. It has been a good run and I hope we can keep it going together for a while longer!

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What Can I Say? I’m a Lucky Guy.

Marci Wedding 350 years ago, the most beautiful woman in the world said “I do” when asked if she would take this man (me!) to be her lawfully wedded husband. I continue to be amazed by my incredible good fortune.

I am sometimes asked about “the secret” to a long and happy marriage. Quite honestly, I know of no secrets. I usually say “I got lucky.” Marci hates for me to say that, but it’s my way of saying that not only did my bride smile on me that day but so did God Almighty. The Lord knows I do not deserve her. I’m not worthy. Yet God in his great mercy gave me Marcella Kaye West on January 27, 1966, to have and to hold, from this day forward, til death do us part, and she has not only been willing to put up with me for 50 years but has filled them up with unimaginable joy. Whenever I see her smile (which is to say, whenever I see her) my heart overflows with gratitude to God. My love for her grows every day and has become so much deeper and sweeter today than when we said our vows half a century ago.

What I am most grateful for is that I have a wife who loves Jesus more than me. She has been a godly example to me of faithfulness to God. I listen to her pray every evening and I am humbled and blessed by the intimacy and beauty of her prayers. She truly loves God and loves people. Even with a debilitating disease that has severely limited her ability to walk and do the things she loves to do, she looks forward to each day with joy and wonder and gratitude.

So I am indeed a happy (and lucky) man on this day of celebration, grateful not only for my wife who I love so much but for all of our friends and family who we both of us love and who have contributed so much to our 50 years of marriage. Thank you!

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Best Bluegrass Albums of 2015

It’s time2015 to make a list of the top 30 bluegrass albums of 2015, as heard on KSON’s Bluegrass Special December 27. If you missed it, you can listen at kson.com/bluegrass through the end of January. This list doesn’t mean that the album listed higher is any better than the album listed lower. It only means that of the more then 125 bluegrass albums that were submitted for airplay this year, these are the 30 I played the most on my radio program.

1. Flatt Lonesome “Runaway Train” (Mountain Home)
2. The Steep Canyon Rangers “Radio” (Rounder)
3. Band of Ruhks “Band of Ruhks” (101 Ranch)
4. Volume 5 “Voices” (Mountain Fever)
5. Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out “It’s About Tyme” (Break a String)
6. Dale Ann Bradley “Pocket Full of Keys” (Pinecastle)
7. The Gibson Brothers “Brotherhood” (Rounder)
8. The Steeldrivers “The Muscle Shoals Recordings” (Rounder)
9. Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman “Purely Instrumental” (no label)
10. Darin and Brooke Aldridge “Snapshots” (Mountain Home)
11. Robert Earl Keen “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions” (Dualtone)
12. Shannon and Heather Slaughter “Never Just a Song” (no label AP Direct)
13. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver “In Session” (Mountain Home)
14. Mountain Faith “That Which Matters” (Mountain Fever)
15. Ronnie Reno “Lessons Learned” (Rural Rhythm)
16. Steve Gulley and New Pinnacle (Rural Rhythm)
17. Della Mae “Della Mae” (Rounder)
18. Ralph Stanley and Friends “Man of Constant Sorrow” (Cracker Barrel)
19. Kathy Kallick Band “Foxhounds” (Live Oak)
20. Sideline “Session 2” (Mountain Fever)
21. Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road “Country Grass” (Pinecastle)
22. Big Country Bluegrass “Country Livin’” (Rebel)
23. Hammertowne “Highways and Heartaches” (Mountain Fever)
24. Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley “Before the Sun Goes Down” (Compass)
25. Chris Jones and the Night Drivers “Run Away Tonight” (Mountain Home)
26. The Grascals “And Then There’s This” (Mountain Home)
27. Springfield Exit “That Was Then” (Patuxent Music)
28. Donna Ulisse “Hard Cry Moon” (Hadley Music Group)
29. Various Artists “Orthophonic Joy” (Sony Legacy)
30. Blue Mafia “Pray for Rain” (Pinecastle)

 

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On the Renovation (or Not!) of Old Hymns

A few years ago College Avenue Baptist Church did the unthinkable by pulling the plug on its two Sunday morning worship services. These services, one held in the gymnasium, the other held in the sanctuary, divided the congregation according to their preferred worship styles. One service was casual and hip, featuring music by contemporary artists heard on Christian radio. The other service was formal and not-so-hip, featuring worship music by hymn writers who are now dead. As you can guess, the hip service attracted young people; the formal service attracted all the old folks.

But those days are long gone at CABC. Today, everyone attends the same worship service.  Old folks and young folks (yes, even children!) worship together in the same place at the same time. The emphasis has been on congregational unity and intergenerational discipleship.

But this has not been an easy transition for the church or its worship leaders.

I was reminded of this last Sunday when our worship music team (bless their hearts), after a couple of contemporary songs, led the congregation in the beloved old hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The hymn, written by the English theologian Isaac Watts (1674-1758) is one the treasures of the church, a familiar old hymn with an elegant musical score.

But not so fast. Apparently there is an alternate version of this hymn which is set to the Celtic love song “O Waly Waly” (or, “The Water is Wide”). It is this version that our worship leaders have chosen for our congregation this week.

215px-River_wild_movie_posterDuring the first verse, I look around the sanctuary and see puzzled looks on the faces of older worshippers who aren’t sure they know how this hymn is supposed to go. The words are familiar but the music, the melody … I’ve heard it before. Wasn’t it the soundtrack to the movie “The River Wild” a few years back? There’s confusion in the air and it’s obvious that very few people are actually singing.

The hymn ends and now it’s time for the offering. The ushers – or hospitality team — come forward and our worship leaders begin singing another hymn while the plates are being passed. This time it’s “Be Still My Soul” by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (1649-?). Given that our pastor is teaching this week on the subject of busyness, it’s a good choice right before the sermon. The young woman who is singing lead on this hymn has a lovely voice, but wait … she has changed the melody. I don’t remember it this way. And a new chorus has been added … with a heavy drumbeat. Now I’m wondering what this song is all about. The beat of the drums and the sentiment of the hymn seem to be at odds with each other.

<sigh>

Look, I try not to be a chronic complainer or curmudgeon. My wife and I attend worship every Sunday with the hope that everyone in the congregation (young and old alike) will be able to worship together in unity. I’m all in when it comes to intergenerational worship. But having sat through many good (and not so good) attempts to pull it off, I’ve learned a few things.

First, despite its messiness, intergenerational worship is worth the effort. I love seeing children (even the little ones who have no clue what’s going on) in the worship service sitting with their parents, taking in all that’s going on. That’s how we pass faith on down from one generation to the next. Kids need to see their parents worshipping God. It makes an indelible imprint on them. Likewise, it’s good for older people to get out of their comfort zones and to experience worship in new ways. It’s good for them to be around young people who love and worship the same God they do but have different ways of expressing themselves in a worship service.

Music is of course the elephant in the room that stirs up the most grumbling and disunity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I don’t believe old folks (like me) really want to stay stuck in the last century nor do they want their churches to die of attrition (which they will do it they don’t connect with young people). This may be a bold thing to say but old people can handle today’s new music. Well, maybe not all of it, but certainly they can handle more than most people think. They just need to be exposed to it in a positive and inclusive way. Sure, there will always be resisters but most seniors don’t have a problem with new music at all. They hear it all the time. What they do have a problem with is music (in a worship setting) that is impossible to sing. Honestly, way too many of today’s worship songs were never meant to be sung by congregations on Sunday morning. They were meant to be sung by recording artists in recording studios and concerts. A radio hit may have a catchy hook in the chorus but that doesn’t make it appropriate for congregational singing. Too many worship services resemble karaoke bars.

But back to intergenerational worship. Is it possible for all age groups to worship together even when they don’t all agree on the style of music? Yes, absolutely they can. It’s possible for a worship service to include new music along with a few golden oldies. Why not? The musicians—at our church anyway—are very capable of playing any kind of music they want. I’m a bluegrass musician and even I can handle a set list with back to back songs by Mercy Me and Fanny Crosby.

I confess that I am guilty of leading Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan’s Island … but never in a worship service. I’d like to suggest that it would be wise for worship leaders who are leading intergenerational worship to refrain from getting too creative with those old hymns.  A hymn should be sung in a version that is as close to the original as possible, the way older members of the congregation remember it. In my way of thinking, this shows respect not only for the hymn but also for the congregation.

There are exceptions of course. Some old hymns have been renovated with good (or at least acceptable) results. Chris Tomlin’s “My Chains Are Gone” version of Amazing Grace is a good example of this although I remember it took a while for some people to wrap their brains around the idea that Amazing Grace needed any improvement at all.

And while “When I Survey” doesn’t need movie theme music to make it relevant, Tomlin added his “Oh the Wonderful Cross” as a bonus chorus and it works very well. Maybe all future renovations of hymns should be put in the hands of Chris Tomlin.

We still have pews at our church with seldom-opened hymnbooks in the pew racks. Occasionally I pull one out and browse through it.  There are some treasures of the church in there. There are some real stinkers in there, too, but that’s for another article. Truth is, there is a lot of great music from the past that younger Christians should hear (and learn to sing). And there are a lot of great songs for worship being written today that certainly deserve to be heard by generations of worshippers yet to come.

What do you think?

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