I think it was in the early 1980’s that I received a significant interjection into my education. I was a student at Mississippi State University, and had recently committed to live my life in ministry…specifically, music ministry. I had already been given the obligatory role of serving as song leader at Lakeview Baptist Mission, a small and struggling church plant that my home church started just outside the air force base in Columbus, Mississippi. It was a mile or so down the road from the main gate of the base, and not too far from another Baptist church.
But, now, I had been asked serve as the music director for a small, but established Baptist Church in a small farming community just north of town (Notice, I’m climbing the ministerial ladder from ‘song leader’ to ‘music director’.) It was one of those churches with two families…about a hundred attended, but everyone was related in some fashion, either by blood or by marriage. It was for the summer, with the possibility to continue as long as things were going well. I was pretty excited, because now I would get to work with a choir, albeit a country church choir.
Our first Wednesday night rehearsal arrived, and the small loft was full…some regular members, some who saw this as an opportunity to return, and some who had been coerced to begin choir service along with the new music director. Lots of anticipation. I had worked hard to choose a few songs, and an anthem or two, only going on what I imagined in my mind a choir of this size could handle.
And so, the rehearsal began with a few introductory remarks, a welcome, and now the usual get-to-know-you routine. I asked them all, one by one, to tell me their name, how long they’d been in the church, whose family they belonged to, and so on. Everything was pretty tame until I got to the back row…a group of men and, at the end, a very, very large woman.
One by one the men introduced themselves, informed me who they were along with a few other details. And then, we get to the woman. A large woman. Corn fed. Country strong. She took up two seats, so I counted her twice. After her usual introductory remarks, the conversation went something like this…
“So, I know we’re full in the choir loft, but why don’t we move some people around and you can come sit with the altos?”
“I’m fine,” she said.
“No, really,” I insisted. “We can make room.” At that point, I began to motion for a few of the sopranos to move down.
“I’ll stay right here,” she said.
The battle had begun. Any music director worth his salt would absolutely not have a woman sitting in the bass section. And, I could tell, this woman was not going to move. I noticed, too, that there was a strange tension among the other choir members…some had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look, while others had an odd, knowing smirk. I was determined to let everyone know that this was my choir, and we would do things my way. After all, I have the training, the knowledge…I have the call, for crying out loud!
“You really do need to move to the front with the other ladies. Are you alto or soprano?”
I wasn’t quite ready for her response.
“I sing bass. I’ve been in the bass section all my life, and I’m not about to move. You may not think I can sing bass, but I do…always have.”
I was stunned. You could hear the crickets outside the church, and the rest of the choir sat in silence, looking to see who would blink.
“Really? You sing bass?” I was in disbelief. Completely stunned. I was the one who blinked.
And, the choir members did not take their eyes from me. I think they wanted to see how the new college kid would handle something they obviously knew about, but, as is the case in small churches sometimes, just isn’t mentioned or discussed, especially with the new guy.
So, I began rehearsal, hoping this would all work out somehow.
And, it did. The large lady in the bass section continued to sing in the choir, and she did it right there in the middle of the bass section. Was she a bass? No. But, she did sing low, I think, and so soft that she had determined she was a bass. I couldn’t tell, because I couldn’t really hear her.
I learned a valuable lesson that summer, and it had nothing to do with music. It was more about loving people for who they are, with all their flaws, and with all their mistakes. It was about ministry to people. And, now, I can see that it was a metaphor for God’s love for us, for me.
Tim Keller said this: “The gospel is this: we are not loved because we are lovely, but in spite of our unlovliness. We are not loved because we have made ourselves worthy of love, but because Jesus died for us when we were unattractive in order to make us attractive.” (The Gospel in Life)