By: Ken Boone
One of my all-time favorite musicians was the late, great James Brown. My mom told me I wasn’t allowed to listen to his music, but thanks to my Aunt Sarah and my friends in Franklin Plaza, I wasn’t left in the dark.
In his classic hit, “Sex Machine”, the Godfather of Soul would suggest to the band that they “hit it and quit” when the song was nearing the end. My absolute favorite musician, my wife Celia, has a more elegant way of describing it. She calls it “landing the plane.”
In previous blog posts and podcasts, the narrative would constantly return to a particular church. So much so that sometimes I feel as though I’m obsessed with them. To a degree I am. What’s more important is the drama that Celia and I avoided by walking away from them. For this post, I decided to put myself in their shoes.
The first thing we noticed when we walked into the sanctuary was the stage. In fact, that’s what our eyes are drawn to the first time we enter any church. While it wasn’t large, it had a grand appearance. Light oak wood floor planks, moldings on the walls and recessed lighting were just some of the things that impressed us.
What really jumped out at us was the music-making equipment. A shiny black Yamaha baby grand piano, accompanied by a guitar and bass amplifier perfectly framed the item I never thought I’d see in a church of this denomination: An electronic drum kit! I thought to myself that we finally won the war. It turns out that we haven’t, but I’ll write more about that in a later blog.
One of the greeters shook our hands and invited us to go to the community room for a continental breakfast. We thought that was a nice gesture, so we took them up on their offer. That’s when my nose picked up the scent of coffee, not Postum! Not only did we win the war, it seemed like we were running up the score!
Breakfast was interesting. Sitting at a long table, we met a number of people who told us that they, like us, were in recovery from various forms of spiritual abuse. Yellow flags went up because Celia and I don’t take that lightly, yet these people seemed to wear it like a badge of honor.
The service started when the band members ambled up and took their places on stage. The songs were performed pretty well, only they lacked decent intros and outros. They pretty much just stopped the songs when they were done, or so it seemed.
Some of this is rehashing what I’d written in a previous blog post or recorded in an earlier podcast episode. I’ve already said on numerous occasions how they blew us off after we were asked to help. After carrying resentment towards a few of them for several years, I finally got around to considering why we accepted their plea for help, and then were rebuffed by a few others. Now think I understand why.
Several years ago, the core members of this church were part of an energetic congregation meeting across town. They were a happy group of people who, while good Christians, didn’t necessarily buy into all of the unnecessary “thou shall nots.” They had a group of great musicians who consistently made a joyful noise. Celia sat in with them frequently.
Because the governing conference thought that this group wasn’t as obedient as they would have liked, the conference infiltrated the church with a number of short-sighted malcontents. The fallout was inevitable. Details are not important, because this sort of thing happens everywhere.
Their fortunes took a turn for the worst. Several key members who decided they weren’t willing to deal with the drama decided to vote with their feet, taking their sizable contributions with them. It got so bad that the remaining members were forced to sell the church property and rent a small chapel in another church with poor amenities where parents were warned not to let their children eat the peeling paint chips.
It was in that purgatory that they started drinking coffee and playing drums. It was also during that time a new leader emerged. Out of necessity, he took over the running of many of the departments. He became the “Church Boss”. He even reluctantly took over the music department, because the most qualified musician had a lazy streak. In fact, she would constantly call Celia to sit in with the band while she went out of town with her husband who worked for the conference. Celia would comply until she found out that the out of town trips (which were made to sound like church business) were actually weekends at a nearby lake.
As the congregation regained its footing, they became very territorial. They would quickly vanquish any potential trouble makers before the situation became untenable. This was particularly true when it came to their music. So it should have come as no surprise to Celia and me that our sheer presence would be greeted with indifference at best or resentment and fear at its worst.
Because this wasn’t our first rodeo, we kept a safe distance and only helped when asked. Playing and singing for the more traditional late service, we applied our touch to the music and made a big impact. However, drama creeps in even when things appear to be going well. This time, the good guys became the aggressors and pushed the traditional service crowd out the door, forcing them to start over again in a rented school auditorium. Now it seems both congregations are struggling just to survive.
As I said several times before on a few different platforms, I have a resentment against them that I’m working my way through. Our intentions were badly misread. They may have thought that we would work our way in, then stage a coup and try to take over. We clearly stated that we were called to take our ministry of music, hope and encouragement to the next level, which involved traveling to other churches on weekends. While we were honing our act, we simply wanted to help them arrange some of their repertoire and help them learn how to take off and land the plane. Nothing more, nothing less.
I honestly respect their devotion to their church, and their desire to protect it at all costs. But sometimes people actually do mean what they say. All we wanted to do, all we were asked to do, was to help them. Their church boss does not know music well enough to teach the band how to arrange their songs. Celia and I have 80 years of church music ministry experience between the two of us and are pretty darn good at coming up with intros and outros. Sometimes help doesn’t feel like help, but many times, it does. When good musicians are willing to help struggling ones, it’s pretty short-sighted to treat them badly. I just hope that the next time we hear them, I hope they can least hit it and quit! Not as elegant, but effective still!
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About the Author
As owner of the Descant Music & Media Group, Ken is a creator and producer of several podcast shows. He is also a music producer, as well as a writer and an accountant for small businesses and nonprofits.