A lion’s share of my 45 years as a United Methodist Clergy was spent as you see me in the picture above, leading group singing. I became so associated with the guitar and songfests that it may interest you that I was not always confident in such public exposure, infact it frightened me terribly.
I burst forth from my chrysalis as I left the small east Texas two that had been my home from kindergarten through college. I answered a call to church work thinking I would be a Minister of Music in a large church by entering Southern Methodist University in Dallas as a MSM candidate. It was not long after meeting the many really talented and gifted student drawn to this world calibre program that I came to feel seriously flawed. I was only a meager talent at best and gifted only with a nice, not fabulous, voice and could play no instrument whatsoever. At the end of the first year of the program, it was clear to me that music, though maintaining potential as a lifelong avocation, would not serve me well as a vocation.
The Seminary, Perkins School of Theology, next door became a likely place to explore. It wasn’t long before I discovered a small career subspecialty career field called Christian Education. It was all about Sunday School organization, Youth Group formation, leader training and a bunch of other small print at the bottom of the label in which was hidden the words preferably play an instrument to lead singing.
In my first appointment out of seminary I became the Minister of Youth and Education. I pulled out an old guitar, having finally reached the small print, and began to practice. It was not good. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to risk it, so I let it sit. Then one weekend I took my teachers to a training workshop at a large church in Dallas. The speaker was a famous female Christian educator who had written a book entitled Teaching the Bible to Children. During the workshop, she pulled out her old orange crate Japanese guitar and prepared to lead the group in a children’s song. Her playing was simple and the guitar betrayed the fact that she won it at a carnival and her voice was weak and off pitch, BUT the group sang the entire song and it worked in her lesson. After she was done, she confided that she was not a singer, a revelation that surprised no one, and that she knew her playing left much to be desired, but she continued,
I used my guitar because I wanted to encourage those of you who do play some instrument but have considered yourself not good enough to do it anyway. If you let yourself enjoy it, others will sing along.
Her words were literally music to my ears and I felt courage rekindle in my heart. I went home pulled out the Mexican Chaquita guitar and began to practice. As I learned a song, I would use it with children.
When I moved to a new church, I would parle with the youth and have them teach me their music and how to play it. Then I would play in the back ground as they lead singing until I felt I knew the songs well enough to take a more prominent role. I copied everyone I could and learned from many. I watched from those who looked natural and adaptive to different settings and situations that arise on stage and developed my own natural style. I became able to read a crowd and keep the energy high. The rest, as they say, is history.