Tuesday, December 3rd was a very special evening at First Baptist Church in Forest City, as our congregation had the opportunity to host a wonderful Christmas concert by the Rutherford Community Chorus (RCC).
Founded back in the early 1960s by director Malone Thomason, the RCC grants women and men in Rutherford County something difficult to find outside of a church setting: the opportunity to sing choral music together.
Some of their music - such as that from their recent Christmas concert - is sacred in nature, and causes one's spirit to soar to heavenly places. Other times, you may hear the group singing ballads, songs from musicals, or even the National Anthem at places like the POPS or at an Owls game. Wherever you find them and whatever they are singing, you are sure to enjoy the RCC's performances; they are quite good, and they make you grateful community choirs still exist!
Without a doubt, the RCC's recent Christmas concert was no exception. For this particular concert, the RCC was joined by the handbell choir at First Baptist, who do amazing work in their own right. Their rendition of Carol of the Bells had the young child sitting in front of me on the edge of her seat, captivated by the beautiful song of Christmas which - appropriately - really does sound its finest when played on actual bells.
The highlight of the evening saw a group called Cheerful Voices come to the stage to join the handbells and the RCC. Cheerful Voices is comprised of a group of intellectually challenged adults who attend Rutherford Life Services, and meet weekly to practice singing. They are the most joyful singers you have ever heard, and the music they make is beautiful in a uniquely uplifting way.
The star of the show was Darrell McEntire, who sang a solo in Mary's Little Boy-Child. Afterward, the audience rose and cheered for his wonderful performance, all of us (in Grinch-like fashion) our hearts having grown 10-times larger for its hearing the joy on Darrell's face, in the Cheerful Voices choir, and throughout the room itself, was truly palpable.
All of this - the choirs, the bells, and the evening itself - was made possible by the sacred diligence of the leaders, Rev. Tony Spencer and Rev. Dr. Diane Nelson. It has been my great privilege to work with both of these individuals for more than four years now, and frankly I can't believe my sheer luck in having the opportunity to do so.
I have met very few ministers in my entire lifetime that have BOTH a deep love for pastoral ministries, and an undeniable musical brilliance. And yet here serve two on the same church staff! I am more grateful than I can say for their friendship, their love of the Church, and their dedication to working with God (and FBC) in making the world a better place.
In particular this year, I am especially grateful for the life and ministry of Rev. Tony Spencer. In July of 2020, Tony will conclude his almost-four decades of service here at First Baptist Church. To say we will miss him is an understatement on a grand scale. His wisdom, his attention to detail, his love for our church, and his desire that everyone would have the opportunity to serve God and others around them through the gift of music simply cannot be replaced. Over the course of the next several months, I know I - and our entire congregation - look forward to celebrating with him "one final lap" as our music minister. What he has given us can never begin to be enumerated, but honestly, I look forward to trying.
Today, however, I wanted to take a moment "sing his praises" (may I pun? Well I'm going to...), not for what Tony has meant to our church specifically - there is thankfully still time for us to tell him that - but to thank him publicly for the way he has represented God's Kingdom and our church in this community, and how he has made Forest City a better place to live. Since taking the baton seven years ago, Spencer has taken the RCC to heights never seen. He has expanded both their repertoire and their number of performances, allowing more and more community members to hear beautiful music that, in some instances, they would never have the chance to hear otherwise.
Beyond that, the Cheerful Voices choir simply would not exist were it not for Tony Spencer. With Diane Nelson's superb accompaniment, Tony brought the ministry of song to challenged adults in this community when such a program existed at only a handful of places in the entire country. His wherewithal and diligence in this ministry have yielded transformational results in the lives of folks who don't have many of those kinds of opportunities, and the results are clearly evident when you watch them sing onstage and hear their joyous voices.
I am convinced: never in your life have you heard a not-always-on-key choir sound so beautiful, and it is all because Tony Spencer gave them the opportunity. He is everything that is right about Rutherford County, about the church, and about the Kingdom of God. He is a gift...a gift for which our town is very grateful.
Speaking of not always on key, four years ago, in my first months at FBC, Tony sat down in my office. In the course of our conversation, he said something that struck a chord in me, something that has never left me to this day: "We are not in the concert business. We are in the redemption business."
Ironic, isn't it? Forty years, and after all that, hitting the notes has been secondary, as the music was never even about the music. And so Tony Spencer, on behalf of Rutherford County, YES, we thank you for the songs. But I think you got it exactly right, so more than that: thank you for always leading us beyond the music.