Carols, tunes and melodies for Christmas redux

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence and Associate Director of Music Ministries

EDITOR’S NOTE: This replaces yesterday’s First Reflections, which included a version of the video that was not final.

We apologize for any confusion, and hope you will enjoy – and share with your friends – this very special Christmas gift, albeit a day late, from the Music Ministry of First United Methodist Church Garland. 

On this day after Christmas, please accept a gift of music.

It is a ‘concert’ of sorts, featuring various instrumentalists and performers from local orchestras playing favorite Christmas carols.

Feel free to listen and share with family, friends and neighbors.

Merry Christmas!

Zoom Choir

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

Pardon my train of thought –
Try a Google search on the benefits of choral singing. There are numerous articles!

Here are six points made by one article: (Choral singing)

  • Strengthens feeling of togetherness
  • Regulates heart rate.
  • Reduces stress levels and depression.
  • Improves symptoms of Parkinson’s and lung disease.
  • Improves feeling of social well-being.
  • Increases life expectancy (possibly)

These benefits are both physical and emotional. This article didn’t mention the spiritual implications.

As a choral conductor, I want to make our virtual choir practices as ‘real’ as possible so that we can reap the true benefits of singing together.

A saying from the ancient Greeks states:

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Choral musicians can really identify with that statement. I can sing in my home, but it is just not the same as breathing and singing with my people.

For our virtual worship, I have lovingly renamed our church choir ‘Zoom Choir.’

Slowly but surely, we are getting the hang of ‘Zooming.’

Thanks to Greg Platt’s audio mixer, each of us is able to clearly hear our music over Zoom. Participants listen with their head phones on their computers and record themselves singing with their smart phones. Then they send me their recordings.

(I put the audio together. It is more difficult than one might think.)

When you see our Zoom choir sing during virtual worship, I am showing the Zoom video with the ‘put together’ voice recording.

One of the reasons I do it this way is to remind us that although we are separate, we are together.

With Zoom Choir, we are able to have people from all over, singing where they live. We are able to breathe and sing together.

Zoom Choir rehearsals remind me of a business plan called “Distributed Workforce.” I learned about this in TED Talk by Matt Mullenweg.

The plan is that each employee is to work from their own location. Matt is deliberate in NOT using the word ‘remote’ because every location and person is important. 

Each worker brings a different understanding of the culture, people and day-to-day life around them.

This style of business network reminds me of a net, which reminds me of Jesus calling to Peter and Andrew:

“Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Each of us are called to be ambassadors of Christ’s love no matter where we are.

When we ‘gather’ as a church (whether in the building or virtually,) we present ourselves before God and are reminded both who we are and whose we are.

Then, with confidence, we are to go spread the love in Christ Jesus.

There is a lot more that I could write on this subject, but you would be sitting there reading.

Instead, get up and go share the love of Christ with someone.

PS – You are invited to come to ZOOM CHOIR! (Email for an invitation.)

Where is the blessing?

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

I feel like I’m finally coming off this constant background hum of a low-grade depression that has bedeviled me since March. Six months.

I’m not going to mince words. This was a rough spring and summer for me.

Six months without concerts, in-person church service, our wonderful Chancel Choir, the talented Pure Joy! Youth Choir, or a congregation to lead in rousing hymns of the faith has affected my psyche more than I ever admitted publicly.

Furthermore, recording for church online worship affected me just as much, as I’m uber-perfectionist, camera shy, and I have a long-standing phobia against recording.

(I’m more of a “you have to be there” artist.)

To top it off, I’ve had to take news and social media in highly regulated doses because it’s just too much.

For me, this has been one long, never-ending night.

Listening around the community, it’s clear I’m not alone.

Every single one of you has a similar tale of struggle, and how this period has forced you to do things that you didn’t have to, or want to, do before.

For some of us, it goes even deeper, as the ‘loss’ is physical as well as spiritual and emotional.

I take heart in this passage from Psalm 30:5: 

… weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. 

One thing that has begun to quicken my soul day-to-day is the question, “Where is the blessing in this day?” I ask myself that, among other questions internally.

These questions allow me to see past the outward dourness and the social instability, and I begin to accept the fact that God’s ‘morning’ may not look like the morning I want or envision.

For example, I hate recording. But what are the benefits of this process? I have begun to discover some of them.

One is that I get to interact with you in real-time during the prelude and postlude of our online worship, instead of hoping and praying while I’m playing that you like what I do. From this, I get to know what you like, what you’re feeling, and which pieces/songs to shelve away.

In the end, I’m confident we will reopen, life will move on, and there will be plenty of outward expressions of joy.

In the meantime, I’m learning to embrace the small joys and to take pleasure in them.

Hope for the future

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 

– Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV) 

My life is not my own.

I was reminded of this on Friday as another hectic week came to a close, this one with a surprise, socially-distanced 86th birthday lunch for my mother.

Between care giving for her, a wife recovering from rotator cuff surgery, a pinched nerve in my back, two dogs, a cat and a job, that realization once again became top-of-mind for me.

So much so that I was tempted to feel sorry for myself.

When did I lose control?

It was then that I remembered two very important things …

  • I am extremely fortunate and extremely blessed. Not rich, but certainly not poor. A roof over my head. Food on the table. A fulfilling job. A family I love and that loves me. And no COVID-19. 
  • I serve a loving God, who has plans for me. My life is not my own. Never was. It belongs to the one who created me. Who put me on this earth to serve others, after the example of Jesus’ service to others.

God is in control, not me.

And in these trying times, that gives me hope for the future.

Für Elise

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

For this reflection, I figured I’d allow music to spread beauty, love and peace in a time of inquietude and angst.

At first, I thought of recording and submitting some smart hymn arrangements my composer friends sent me.

However, something in my spirit kept bringing me to this oldest of chestnuts in my repertoire: Beethoven’s Für Elise.

I haven’t played it, much less looked at it, since I was about 9 or 10.

At the same time, I have this feeling, or this inkling, that it will minister unto someone’s soul in a timely way.

I sincerely pray that this small token will bring brighten your day, even if briefly.

Be blessed.

No longer good enough

The way it always was
is no longer good enough

Funny how inspiration strikes when you least expect it. 

How when you’re not looking for it, or don’t know exactly where to look, ‘BOOM,’ it’s there. 

I’ve often heard our Senior Pastor Valarie Englert and others speak of flipping the Bible open to a random page and finding just the right word or phrase in scripture to illustrate a point or a message or a devotional.

Well, that’s sorta what happened to me.

Except it wasn’t the Bible. It was a song.

Brave by Nicole Nordeman.

(I once sang harmony on the chorus of this song with a young lady who was a far more gifted vocalist than I.) 

An accomplished contemporary Christian music artist, Nordeman was inspired to write Brave as she was overcoming doubts about being a good parent to her first child.

The title comes from the bravery God gave her to stand up and assert herself.

Amazingly, the chorus could have been written for the challenge we now face, best summed up I think by author and poet Sonya Renee Taylor: 

Normal no longer exists.

But we are being given a new opportunity.

One that takes courage.

One that takes bravery, backed by the knowledge that God is in our corner.

Or as Nordeman sings:

So long, status quo,
I think I just let go
You make me wanna be brave
The way it always was
is no longer good enough
You make we wanna be brave 

Something’s missing

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Twenty two days ago, Judge Clay Jenkins issued the shelter in place order for Dallas County.

Since then Governor Greg Abbott has also asked all Texas residents to stay at home except for essential business.

Twenty two days may seem like a long time to stay at home, but think about places in the world that have been in lockdown.

Wuhan China, the starting place of all of this, went into lockdown on January 23 and remained so for 76 days.

During this time they weren’t allowed to leave their homes at all. No walks, no bicycle rides, no direct contact with anything outside their homes.

When I think about all that we are going through here in North Texas, I try to keep things in perspective and remember that I can take a walk in my neighborhood if I would like to.

I can go to the grocery store if I need to. I can drive my car to a relative’s house and have a driveway talk if I want to. I am so incredibly thankful for that.

Two days ago we celebrated Easter. We celebrated our risen Lord.

For those of you who were able to watch our 7:00am and 11:00am worship services, I hope you were as blessed as I was.

Listening and watching Eldred play the organ again as I turned up the bass on my sub-woofer gave me chills.

What a wonderful arrangement.

Of course nothing beats the Toccata that was played as our postlude.

The Cowan family blessed us with their gift of music.

I love listening to families that sing together. There is something about the way their voices blend together that you simply don’t get in any other setting.

Dana Willis proclaimed our scriptures in a way that only she can.

We are so blessed to have people like her that are willing to bring their dramatic interpretations to us through voice and movement.

I loved seeing Chancel Choir proclaim “He is risen. He is risen indeed!”

Kitty Williams is working so hard to keep our choir connected and bring their ministry to the congregation.

Speaking of Kitty, what a blessing to hear her sing. We should get to hear more of that, yes?

Caroline Noll always seems to find a way to bring joy into Children’s Time each Sunday when we gather in our sanctuary.

And to watch her do it in a virtual space and still bring joy to children … 

My son Cooper immediately got on the floor to move closer to the screen, as if he were coming to the chancel rail in our sanctuary to listen to Pastor Caroline bring the message to all the children.

I was truly amazed at the power of her message.

Valarie Englert brought our Easter message. A message of hope and love.

Her passion is so evident in the messages she brings each week.

In a virtual space, it is difficult to know how your message is being received, but I know for me it was a powerful and uplifting message of hope and love.

He is risen indeed!

Still, there was something missing.

I had my wife and children (and recently acquired beast of a puppy) with me, but I didn’t have my friends and family there.

You, my church family, weren’t sitting in the same room as I was. We were watching together, but I didn’t see you.

The youth didn’t come up to the 3rd floor dressed in their Easter finest to fellowship together.

I didn’t get to see all the wonderful, colorful outfits on our children as they came from the 2nd floor to worship.

I didn’t get to see the stained glass windows as the sunlight burst through and dazzling colors danced across the room.

I didn’t get to see any of these things.

And there were no hugs or handshakes in the hallways or sanctuary, no warm greetings with smiles as we shared the peace of Christ with one another.

Yes, something was certainly missing.
Even though there were things missing, I can assure you God was not missing.

God was with us as we watched the morning services together, even though we were not physically next to one another.

God was with us as we ate our Easter meals at home, remembering each other in our prayers as we broke bread.

God was with us as children played in the yard and hunted for Easter eggs.

God was with us as we fellowshipped through virtual spaces.

God was with us this Easter Sunday, just as God is with us every day.

God’s love, God’s grace and God’s peace is always with us.

Even when we struggle and suffer, God is still with us.

The promise and proclamation that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God is one that will stand the test of time.

Yes, even times like these.

Death was not victorious. Darkness did not win.

Even now, as the world struggles and suffers, the darkness will not win.

God is still with us.
Twenty two days. It seems like a long time, doesn’t it?

I have had many conversations with our youth and parents in the last 22 days.

Here is the question I ask often:

“What is your greatest hope when this is all over?”

Some of my favorite responses have been: 

  • “I hope that we are humbled. That we remember our time apart so that, when we gather together again, we are humble enough to know that we need to be intentional about loving one another.” 
  • “I hope that when this is all over we will come out on the other side with a renewed passion for relationship. Not only with one another, but most importantly our relationship with God. I hope we can still make time for that.”
  • “I just hope that all the people who lost their jobs and had to close their business will get the help they need. I know that I am going to do what I can by encouraging others to stop thinking about themselves and help their neighbors. If we can all do that then maybe there really is hope.”

These statements came from teenagers and adults.

There were so many more, and most followed this same line of thinking.
Being loving, thinking of others instead of ourselves, building our relationships, and making time.
In difficult times we often struggle to see God working amidst the chaos and suffering.

I want to share with you where I see God working.

I see God working on the hearts of our young people right now.

I see people realizing what is truly important in life.

I see people drawing closer to a God who loves them unconditionally.

I see neighbors being friendly to one another and learning each other’s names and things about their families.

I see churches reaching a larger community through virtual spaces and watching God work in the lives of those who don’t have church homes.
Easter is a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is a time of renewal and rebirth.

It is a time when we are given the opportunity to offer praise and thanksgiving for a sacrifice so great that it could never be repaid.

God is with us, always and forever.

So let us continue to celebrate Easter and the promise of new life.

Things will continue to be difficult and the struggle will continue to be real.

But we are headed for a new life, my friends.

We are going to see the other side of this, and we will gather together again.

It will be different for most. It won’t look the same.

God will be with us then, just as God is with us now.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Spirit and truth

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

As many of you know, Pure Joy! Youth Choir was on the 2020 Choir Tour to St. Louis during Spring Break.

We had a wonderful time sharing our music, fellowshipping and enjoying all the many amazing places in St. Louis.

Thank you SO much for your support to the youth through Stock Sales, Rummage Sale and Dessert Show.

They are so thankful to this loving congregation of First United Methodist Church Garland!

We couldn’t do it without you! We love you! THANK YOU!

Upon returning on AMTRAK the Thursday morning before Friday the 13th, Clay Jenkins ordered that there be no large group gatherings. That meant no church activities. 

Little did we know when we exited that train and traveled to our homes, life would no longer be as we knew it.

The Sunday we were in St. Louis (March 8) was a special Sunday here in Garland.

I was disappointed to miss Kimberly Ingram preaching, and Caroline Noll reading as Yolanda Pendleton and Patrick LaBruyere enacted “The Woman at the Well.”

I was finally able to watch the service on YouTube a day ago.

This was the last service before the Clay Jenkins announcement and sheltering in place.

As the scripture was read and the word proclaimed, I thought, “How appropriate!”

Little did we know the scripture would yet again be enlightened by our current situation.

Read these words from John 4:19-24 … 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

When I heard this read, my mind immediately rephrased it to say … 

The hour is coming when you will neither worship in your sanctuary, nor any other sanctuary.”

I don’t know about you, but I miss singing together and hearing the hymns and anthems; uniting our voices to declare, “We are not alone!”

I miss all of it – you beautiful people, the beautiful windows and banners!

Yet the rephrased words speak in my heart … 

“You will neither worship in your sanctuary, nor any other sanctuary …”

Am I to truly worship just in my house?

Then I read Jesus’ continued words … 

“…the Father seeks … those who worship in spirit and truth.”

The thought of Sunday worship in my house reminded me of a little book I received when I was young called My Heart, Christ Home. It is based on Ephesians 3:16-19.

It’s a little book that encourages you to invite Christ fully into every room of your heart because Christ cares about every aspect of your life.

Christ gave himself fully and wholly for us.

Giving yourself fully and wholly to Christ will allow you to know the breadth, length, height and depth of his love.

This will give you the peace that passes all understanding.

You don’t have to be in a big worship service to give yourself to God.

You can humbly give yourself to Christ right there in your own space.

You will receive the living water that Jesus describes to the woman at the well.

 So my prayer is the prayer that Paul prayed for the church people of Ephesus … 

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, Christ may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Peace to you,


Great is thy faithfulness

Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

During this season, we have been living Lent.

Stripped of our hustle and bustle, jealously guarding our health, we are waging a war against an invisible foe.

Despite all of our technology, our scientific advancements, and historical backlog, individually we are turning to the bare essence of what makes us human: faith, family and fun.

‘Fun’ can be anything from the simple joys of in-home music making to binge-watching the documentary about Zoos.

‘Family’ in this case is both blood and chosen.

I’m not going to lie: being stripped of ‘gigs’ and busyness has afforded me the opportunity to grow closer to relatives with whom I haven’t had a real conversation in decades, or ever.

Or to reconnect with old friends living and/or working in the eye of the storm. I know I’m not the only one.

But let me talk a little about the ‘faith’ part with the help of music. 

Great is Thy Faithfulness is one of the greatest hymns of our faith.

The text brings comfort and joy. The tune is instantly recognizable and lends itself to some deep instrumental improvisation.

Escape for five minutes into the arms of the Holy Spirit as you watch and listen.

By now, I’m sure you know someone who has the virus. This brings you unending sadness and anxiety.
Great is Thy faithfulness. 
The four walls of your home feel as though they’re caving in on you. But you still have a home.
Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
The economy we thought was humming along has come to a sudden crash. But you still have food on your table.
All that I need Thy hand hath provided. 
You feel isolated from everyone you love but deep down you know that you’ll see them again and that this will pass.
Great is Thy faithfulness – Lord unto me. 
Through it all, let’s depend on Jesus to get us through – emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically. Great is his faithfulness unto us.
Let’s continue to pray for those who are fighting this virus in any capacity: medical personnel, first responders, cleaning/maintenance crews, grocery store workers, as well as those who have contracted it.

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