"We're together again"
Blogging has been light -- we've been taking it relatively easy the past few days.
Doing our part to help the local tourism industry, we decided to stay in Oklahoma for my son's fall break, including a day here in town.
We actually left the state for the weekend, so that my wife, Mikki, could attend a reunion of her college church choir, the New Creations. The New Creations choir was part of the collegiate ministry of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The choir was founded in the late '60s and was active for 30 years, involving over a thousand students over the years. During Mikki's involvement (1980 - 1985), the choir sang at the Sunday morning collegiate services and went on spring break tours around Arkansas and around Europe. In addition to weekly rehearsals, a singer would meet once each week with a different singer for prayer. Tanner Riley was the choir's director during my wife's involvement, and many students who sang for him describe him as more than a choir director -- a friend, mentor, and counselor as well.
UBC has the distinction of a mission that matches its name -- University isn't just an indicator of proximity to campus, but ministry to college students has been the heart of its mission, particularly under the nearly 40 years of leadership from Senior Pastor H. D. McCarty. Along with the choir, UBC ran a student housing program for many years, using nearby houses and an old fraternity house. UBC housing was not just a place to live but also a program of mentoring to develop students as followers of Christ. Mikki is also an alumna of that program.
About 100 singers, and three of the choir's four conductors, gathered for the reunion, along with spouses and kids. Although I was just there as the spouse of a singer, I enjoyed the weekend as well. I didn't feel out of place: Many of Mikki's fellow singers were still around Fayetteville when Mikki and I started dating, and I met them at them at the many weddings we attended in the years after graduation. It was fun to watch the directors put the choir through their paces.
The music they sang would never be described as timeless. The music, by composers Beryl Red and John Purifoy, among others, reflected its era, a time when church musicians were trying to connect with the Baby Boom youth culture by dropping old hymn tunes and campmeeting songs in favor of more modern sounds. To be honest, the attempt at being contemporary was always about 10 years out of date, and the sounds I heard had more in common with an Andy Williams rendition of an adult contemporary chart topper than with the Beatles or Janis Joplin.
The music may have been the audio equivalent of polyester bell-bottom slacks, but the message is timeless. I was especially touched by John Purifoy's setting of Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me all who labor
And are heavy-laden down
And I'll give you rest...
Here you'll find rest,
You'll find rest for your weary souls,
For my yoke is easy,
And my burden is light.
Come to me.
Those words must have had a poignancy for these singers that they lacked decades ago amidst the relative simplicity of college life. In the rubble of broken dreams and good intentions unfulfilled, there remains a promise of rest in Christ Jesus.
UPDATE: 2009/10/07 -- There's now a New Creations group on Facebook to help alumni of the choir reconnect. And David Winberry has digitized some of the performances from the late '70s and early '80s.
Audio from the 1984 New Creations spring concert:
The Facebook page is still online, but it seems to have had its membership purged at some point, so if you had joined before, you will want to rejoin.