This May, Glenn's beloved youth choir director and assistant music director, Wes Griffin, will retire after 34 years. He has written a tribute to his time at Glenn:
MY LIFE FLOWS ON IN ENDLESS SONG
It was the fall of 1983. I had just moved back to Atlanta from Florida and was wanting to join a church. At the invitation and urging of my good friends, Carolyn Knight and Wade Watson, I came to worship at Glenn. I received handshakes and greetings from folk when I walked in the door (probably including Joe Pugh). Larry Bauman preached a stirring sermon. The organist was magnificent, and the choir, fantastic. I was home. The rest, as we say, is history.
I joined the music staff at Glenn in 1984. The legendary Wayne Wyatt preceded me, acting as both youth minister and youth choir director (while still a full-time Candler student – amazing). Since then, through these 34 years as both Youth Choir Director and then Associate Music Director, it has been my privilege to sing with and direct not only some of the greatest musicians anywhere, but also some of the finest, most loving and kind people in the world.
WHEN IN OUR MUSIC, GOD IS GLORIFIED
It has always been my firm belief and desire that our musical offerings be made in honor and to the glory of God. I also believe that when people gather together in worship, there are opportunities for the Holy Spirit to move in our hearts in ways not found elsewhere. There is no greater joy for me than our youth singing and participating in worship. When they sing the great music of the church, not just well, but joyfully and with their hearts, I know it can be transformative for them and for all of us. We can feel the presence of and grow closer to God – experiencing the grace of Jesus Christ. God is at work!
In addition, there is an inherently strong communal and connectional aspect among choir members when making music together. We strive toward (but never quite achieve) the perfection of our music, but there are rich and potent spiritual forces that we feel in the PROCESS of making music. And it is in that process of making music as one body (all those rehearsals!) that certainly, musical skills are developed and learned, but there is rich fellowship in our gathering and friendships are formed and nurtured. And, when our efforts begin to bear musical fruit, the melodies and harmonies speak to our hearts. We know and feel it, often without having to say it. For some, it is what keeps them singing year after year.
MAKE ‘EM LAUGH
If I have learned anything in my many years of directing, it is that God has an amazing sense of humor and that reality has always been funnier and more humbling than anything I could make up. Here are just a few (from many) of my experiences:
· Calling upon my extensive knowledge regarding behavioral conditioning from my BS degree in psychology and wanting to decrease distractions in choir practice, I once used a handbell as an auditory cue to my youth choir to stop talking. That lasted one rehearsal.
· At a previous church, I made a vain attempt to compliment an older woman in my choir on the nice tan she had acquired on her legs. Embarrassed, she told me she had run out of hosiery, and had instead put make-up on her legs to darken them up. I then joined the embarrassment.
· At Glenn, I once stood up in the choir loft in the middle of a sermon (I think John Simmons?) to try to get the attention of a youth choir girl talking and giggling. It took a minute or so of standing until she saw me (and stopped). One congregant thought my standing was part of the sermon message.
· Selected by me and sung by the youth choir only once, the anthem, “Upon the Body of our Blessed Lord, Naked and Bloody” by Daniel Pinkham is NOT on the top-10 list of most loved youth choir songs.
· At 11:00 a.m. worship at Glenn, I sang with and accompanied on guitar a young missionary woman dressed in a short grass skirt dancing a Hawaiian Hula. Reviews from the congregation were, shall we say, “mixed”.
· Once, a youth, robed and sitting in the choir loft during worship, fell asleep with his face under a portion of a white sheet covering the back of risers. From the congregation, he appeared headless.
O FOR A THOUSAND TONGUES TO SING
My memory (never good to being with) fades, but I can now bask in the warm glow of some the most wonderful musical memories here at Glenn. Here are just a few:
· Honored for years of opportunities to direct the Chancel Choir, 8:30 a.m. Primi Cantores Choir, and Women’s Chorus.
· Spring and Little Chapel Concerts.
· Choir Tours and mission trips to New York, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Toronto, Canada, and Eleuthera, Bahamas, singing at great monuments, on the streets, in homes, hotel lobbies, cathedrals, and tiny chapels.
· Musicals, including “Narnia”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Godspell”, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Sound of Music” “Music Man” and “Peter Pan”.
· Youth Choirs invited to and singing at North Georgia Annual Conference (thanks, Donn Ann Weber).
· Benefit concert in honor of Charlie Hoff, raising over $10,000 toward expenses incurred for his heart transplant.
· Participants at the Emory “Open Streets” Festival for the past 3 years.
And, I also look forward to our exciting spring concert this April 14, in which youth choir alumni have been invited back for reunion and singing.
GLORIA, IN EXCELSIS DEO!
Through the years, I have felt the encouragement and support of so many wonderful staff – all the senior, associate and youth ministers, the amazing office support, accompanists, musical directors, and finally, our amazing children’s choir directors, whose skillful and loving preparations nurtured our children until they reached youth.
Steve Darsey has been not only the best Director of Music I could have hoped for, but also my good friend, offering sound advice and steadfast support. Likewise, Blair Setnor has been the best of colleagues in youth ministry, always understanding and collaborative. Alice Rogers wins the “prize” of being the only senior pastor to go on a youth choir tour at Glenn. Then, as now, I have always felt her undying support for me and commitment to our church. You shall be missed, my friend.
Yet with all that said, ultimately, it has been the Glenn community – my great friends in the Chancel Choir, the wonderful youth, and the many loving and understanding parents through these many years – that have made this journey not only possible, but rich and fulfilling.
GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH
But my wife, Cheryl, has been and is my rock and fortress, always there for encouragement and support. Through the years of countless rehearsals, performances, letter writing campaigns, choir tour manager, musical productions, you name it – she did it. I could not have accomplished anything without her. Our son, Mason, a youth choir “captive” to his father for 7 years, not only sang, but assisted and helped when needed. My love, thanks, and appreciation to my wonderful family.
WILL THE CIRCLE BE UN-BROKEN?
And so, it comes full-circle. “Youth” from my first Glenn youth choir are grown and some have kids that are now in my current youth choir. Yet through the years, the kids really haven’t changed, and neither has the love and support of my family and the many friends in the Glenn congregation and community. I have been and remain eternally grateful and blessed.
OH, AUNTIE EM, THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
I officially retire from Glenn in May, looking forward to some long weekends and a few more wet fishing lines. Our own Cynthia Shepherd assumes the role of Youth Choir Director, and in her capable hands, I know that the youth choir program will thrive. Yet, Glenn is our church home. Cheryl and I are not going anywhere!