Friendship and Worship, Side by Side at the Organ

Glenn member Dr. Timothy Albrecht is professor of church music at Candler, professor of music and organist at Emory, and a close friend of Kenny Gilbert’s, an 11-year-old who regularly attends Glenn. You can see the two of them sitting at the organ in the Sanctuary most Sundays.

I emailed Dr. Albrecht (and Kenny’s father, Ken, and grandmother, Carolyn) to set up an interview with him and Kenny. I wanted to find out the story behind their partnership at the organ, write it up, and share it as a blog post. Dr. Albrecht’s decline of my request (below) includes a perfect example of the faith stories Glenn’s blog was launched to share. Thank you, Dr. Albrecht, for sending your regrets in the form of this thoughtful and insightful piece. (The following has been posted with  permission.) 

Dear Irene,

Thank you for your kind request for an interview together this Sunday after church. I don’t believe we know each other, but I am very touched by your invitation and hope you will come up and introduce yourself some Sunday.

I would like to share with you, however, my own red flag about the idea of your including the results of such an interview in a Glenn blog. (Also, very far behind on so many things, I am hearing about our congregational blog now for the first time). Although such interviews could possibly be intriguing, there is another side of me that shies away from doing this, as I want to continue to respect the beautiful mystery of what transpires each and every week that Kenny is at my side at the organ for the 11 AM Glenn church service.

Kenny Gilbert is one of the brightest boys I have ever met… Although I don’t know all that much about some of his background, there are aspects I do know that make my heart go out to him.  I am so very grateful to his totally dedicated grandmother, Carolyn Gilbert and to his equally totally loving dad, Ken (often a Glenn usher) for allowing Kenny to be with me during church.

Each time Kenny is present (he is now 11 and I believe this has been occurring for over three years already!), there is an unfolding of special and inspiring worship interaction we have together up at the Glenn Casavant organ console. Unspoken and indicated mostly by nonverbal cues, the interaction is so much more than Kenny involved in all the musical things that occur. These include turning pages for the organ music and accompaniments I play, giving pitches for a capella choir anthems, preparing organ registrations for upcoming hymns and vocal solos, adding the Cymbelstern bells or organ stops at certain times that verbalize in congregational hymn singing to the Trinity/Jesus as Lord/Gloria in excelsis Deo, or even actually playing trills or other things with me during the hymns according to my “on the spot” (i.e., no preparation ever!) tutelage at the organ.

More importantly, I am attempting through this and other things to help Kenny grow in what it means to actively worship the Lord during church services, rather than simply “doing a gig” as an organist having a “church job.”

For example, early in the service, during scripture reading, we follow together, each with one hand on the same Bible. Even this is an attempt to help Kenny (and me) grow in what it means to actively worship the Lord during church. Kenny always respectfully stands next to me during the reading of the Gospel, rather than our using that occasion to simply “get the next piece of music ready.” When I go up with the Communion servers to receive the Eucharist, Kenny always goes with me.

These are just a few examples of my attempt to model what it means to really worship, rather than simply perform before an audience (Incidentally, the latter he did, too, at the final Scary Ride concert almost two years ago, where he appeared to the delight of the Schwartz audience as Count Dracula’s “Mini-Me.”)

Kenny and Timothy pictured with Glenn member Barbara McClure at Scary Ride.

Kenny and Timothy pictured with Glenn member Barbara McClure at Scary Ride.

Such instruction in worship decorum also includes my own grousing under my breath to Kenny during many of the opening organ voluntaries of how loud some Glenn parishioners are during my own initial opening voluntary playing, something I consider my own music prayer (“praying through the pipes.”). This opening prayer is offered amidst a din of what others entering the sanctuary perhaps simply consider (mistakenly, in my view) as “Christian fellowship” time.

Thus, a Glenn blog on this topic, while perhaps a potentially good idea, would not have a good result, if it were ultimately emphasizing the human rather than being something Christ-directed. I simply do not want to shine a much too bright spotlight on some of the magical aspects that take place spontaneously and effortlessly between Kenny and me in our being side by side during our 11 AM worship hour.

Thank you for allowing me to express my thoughts on why I would “rather not.” I have not discussed any of this with Kenny. (Actually, our Sunday morning church-hour communication consists of very, very few words together. In fact, when he sees me at Holy Grounds coffee hour before church or anywhere else during the week, one might think he does not even know me!). Therefore, it is my suspicion that were you to set up an interview time together with Kenny Gilbert, you might not find him extremely loquacious!

Blessings from Timothy


P.S. A final vignette, showing how close I feel to Kenny, occurred now almost three years ago on that Advent 2013 Sunday morning when I (finally!) joined the Glenn congregation. As I moved from the organ bench to Alice awaiting me at the front altar rail, I simply told Kenny to come with me (and he did, silently, like a little shadow). I wouldn’t have had it any other way, although the thought of my inviting this little wisp of an 8-year-old to stand beside me as I became a Glenn member had not occurred to me until the instant I began moving from my perch as seated at the organ bench. Surely there was something present here of those blessed words of Jesus in one of my favorite Bible passages, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”