News Archives

Worship artists celebrate group’s 50th year with verve

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Deborah White

Members of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts attend worship at First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, Calif.
July 20, 2005

By Deborah White*

SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS) — From an all-star handbell choir to shouting and stomping for an encore from a vocal ensemble, the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts celebrated its 50th anniversary with style and spirit.

About 700 musicians, pastors, worship leaders, artists and dancers from the United States, Canada and England gathered for the organization’s biennial convocation July 10-14. A 10-member committee chaired by Kevin Bogan of Kansas worked more than two years to plan a stunning 50th anniversary convocation filled with worship services, concerts and a variety of workshops. At the same time, the United Methodist Board of Discipleship presented “Preaching from the Center,” a special track of workshops geared to pastors.

“The Fellowship: Our Golden Future” was the theme of the convocation. Several sessions honored the founders and the organization’s rich history as a group of church musicians.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Deborah White

Austin Lovelace accepts the Roger Deschner Award, the fellowship’s top honor.
Austin Lovelace, chairman of the organizing committee for the first meeting in 1955, received the Roger Deschner Award, which recognizes outstanding members of the fellowship and honors the late Roger Deschner, a cherished member and mentor.

Lovelace, minister of music emeritus at Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, is credited with more than 700 compositions. “He is one of America’s most beloved church musicians. His classic works have helped us be formed over decades,” said Elise Eslinger, chairman of the award committee.

“I hope my gift has been valuable to you,” said Lovelace, who led several sessions at the convocation.

Another founding member, Carlton “Sam” Young, also had a prominent role in the convocation. In addition to leading workshops, he composed new music for a Eucharistic prayer written by the Rev. Don Saliers of United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology. It premiered at the closing worship service at the historic Grace Cathedral in downtown San Francisco.

At the opening banquet in the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel ballroom, fellowship President Beverly Clement recognized Lovelace, Young and Margaret Sayre, who attended the first convocation. Movies and photos of early convocations were featured.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Deborah White

Beverly Clement reacts to praise from the fellowship for her two years of service as president of the organization.
“It was humbling to realize how many of those founders are no longer with us. We are grateful for their vision and work,” wrote Dean McIntyre, director of music resources at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, in a daily blog about the event at

The convocation included 45 workshops taught by 27 musicians, artists, pastors and performers, covering such topics as worship planning, choral rehearsal techniques, visual arts, composing hymns, teaching new hymns to congregations, preaching in a multicultural world and computer software for musicians.

“This event is about celebrating the past and taking that with us into the future,” said David Bone, executive director of the fellowship. “This has been a real watershed event. Everyone is saying the bar has been set.”

Many fellowship members attend convocations regularly because of opportunities to learn, discuss concerns and return to their congregations inspired with new ideas.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Deborah White

Joseph Martin plays an encore at his piano concert at First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, Calif.
“It truly has altered the life of my congregation,” said Marilyn Hirschman, who has attended 26 convocations as director of music at Farmer City (Ill.) United Methodist Church, part of the Salt Creek Parish. “I come back so energized. The energy carries over to the choir and to the congregation.”

The convocation helped eight British church musicians feel they are part of a worldwide church family. “It helps remind us that we are not on our own, and that is very encouraging,” said the Rev. Nick Young, chairman of the delegation from the Methodist Church Music Society in England.

After attending the fellowship’s convocation in 2003, Young asked the others to make the trip to San Francisco. “We had a lot of issues in common,” he said. Both groups are dealing with the challenges of contemporary worship, declining membership, recruiting young people and encouraging good music across all traditions. “So many of our smaller churches have lost choirs,” he said.

One of the convocation’s most inspiring moments was a concert by Chanticleer, a Grammy-winning vocal ensemble of 12 men directed by Joseph Jennings. With voices ranging from bass to countertenor (soprano range), Chanticleer’s precision, versatility and smooth, rich sound mesmerized fellowship members. As the concert ended, the audience’s clapping gave way to shouting and stomping insistently for an encore, and Chanticleer responded.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Deborah White

The Rev. Nick Young (center) led a group of church musicians from England to the convocation.
Fellowship members kept talking about Chanticleer the next day. “As they got closer and closer to perfection, I became closer and closer to my God,” said Bill Shortal of Winter Park, Fla., installed July 14 as the new president of the fellowship.

“I was amazed at what God can do with the human voice,” said Bishop William H. Willimon of the North Alabama Conference.

In two plenary addresses, Willimon spoke about praise and worship, sprinkling his talks with stories and remarks that kept participants laughing. But he got serious, too, expressing distress about a tendency toward praise without focus in worship.

“One of my criticisms of worship is this uncritical, naďve sense of, ‘Yeah, bring it on in here,’” he said. “Praise is a good thing. You’ve just got to be careful how you do it.”

A convocation leader who drew considerable praise from participants was the Rev. Thomas H. Troeger, a professor of Christian communication at Yale Divinity School. He led the early morning worship for three days and taught several seminars. In a sermon from the Genesis creation story, he reminded participants that they bear the image of God and that their creations show the image of God.

Other highlights of the convocation included:

  1. A concert by 13 fellowship members chosen by audition to be in the All-Star Handbell Choir.
  2. “A Service of Honoring and Remembering Our Past” at First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto. It included a mariachi group, liturgical dancers and a ceremony honoring the dead called “Dia de los Muertos.” Participants sang English and Spanish verses in several hymns. Bishop Minerva Carcańo of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference preached and presided over the celebration of Holy Communion.
  3. A worship service hosted by Jones Memorial United Methodist Church and Downs United Methodist Church, predominantly African-American congregations in San Francisco and Oakland. A high-energy choir and praise band led fellowship members in singing hymns in an upbeat gospel style. The Rev. Safiyah Fosua, director of invitational preaching ministries at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, preached.
  4. Joseph Martin’s piano concert, peppered with anecdotes about his first chartreuse “piano-shaped object” and “Miss Mamie, who played by ear only on the black notes at Wednesday night prayer meeting.” Martin is a composer and director of sacred publications for Shawnee Press.

*White is associate editor of Interpreter magazine, published by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

Audio Highlights

Bishop William H. Willimon

Hymn: "O God Who Gathers Into One"

The Rev. Nick Young

Related Articles

Fellowship provides mosaic of music, worship arts

Pastor concentrates on mission field of 'seekers'


Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

2005 Music and Worship Arts Convocation

United Methodist Board of Discipleship


Joseph Martin bio

Ring of Fire Handbell Ensemble

Jones Memorial United Methodist Church

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto