By Debbie Adams
Ministers of Music from several Vinton-area churches gathered at Vinton Baptist on March 29 for the inaugural “Virtual Hymn Sing” which they had organized to lift the spirits of the community observing “social distancing” due to coronavirus regulations.
Dr. Chris Monroe from Vinton Baptist, Josh O’Dell from Thrasher Memorial, Pastor Brian Geiser from First Christian, and Dan Plybon from Campbell Memorial Presbyterian, along with vocalists Michele Richardson and Wanda Melchers, and bass player Gari Melchers spent the hour from 3 to 4 p.m. singing solos, duets, and quartets, and playing hymns on piano and organ. O’Dell was featured on the piano, Plybon on percussion.
They had taken to Facebook earlier in the week to ask the community to suggest titles of hymns they would like to hear. There was a large response and they selected 19 from those mentioned – encouraging songs of comfort and “old songs of our faith.”
The broadcast was live-streamed, via the Vinton Baptist website and Facebook page, with the words posted on a screen behind the vocalists for viewers who wanted to participate in their homes.
“I saw online where individual music ministers were doing similar ministry projects – most of them solo,” said Monroe. “My idea was to reach out beyond my church to encourage others in their faith and pull the community together. We may have different denominational labels, but we all love Jesus and want to do what we feel called to do: minister to others.
“It seems to have worked,” said Monroe. “As of noon March 30, 543 people had watched the broadcast all over the world. Now, that makes my heart sing!”
O’Dell welcomed viewers to the hymn sing by reading one of his favorite scripture passages from Philippians 4, which he said had “been on my heart lately”– “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
He urged the online audience to “remember that the Lord is near; do not worry,” even in troubling times such as we are experiencing now because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Monroe told the viewers that the virtual program might be a “Forrest Gump” moment, not knowing what to expect, since it was a first time for the group to sing and play together and to livestream the music – but it was flawless.
The musical program opened with an organ solo by Wanda Melchers performing “Praise to the Lord the Almighty.”
Geiser, Monroe, Melchers, and Richardson – all blessed with marvelous voices – formed a quartet to perform enduring favorites, “How Great Thou Art,” “Love Lifted Me,” “There’s Power in the Blood,” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Monroe stepped forward next to share the story of the origin of the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul,” by Horatio Spafford after he experienced the loss of his 4-year-old son, the death of his daughters in a collision at sea, and the Great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially. As he traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write the hymn.
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows, like a sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Monroe noted that while “life can be unpredictable and lives can change in an instant, we can find peace amidst the turbulence” by relying on God.
O’Dell followed with a piano solo, performing, “Blessed Assurance.”
The quartet returned with “Day by Day,” the oft-requested “Be Thou My Vision,” “This is My Father’s World,” and the childhood standard, “Jesus Loves Me.”
Geiser shared the story of another hymn conceived in tragedy, “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” written by Thomas Dorsey, the first African American elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Association’s Living Hall of Fame.
The song was written after the death of his wife Nettie and their infant son in childbirth. Dorsey was “lost in grief, angry with God for doing him such an injustice.” “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light: Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”
The quartet continued with “In the Garden,” “Down at the Cross” and the powerful Easter hymn, “Because He Lives.”
Monroe shared a personal story of “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” one of his mother’s favorites, which she would sing exuberantly as he practiced piano on Sunday afternoons.
The hymn sing concluded with rousing editions of “Victory in Jesus,” and “I’ll Fly Away,” followed by the much loved “Amazing Grace.”
Geiser thanked viewers for joining them for the program – even though only virtually. “We hoped to bring to you a respite from a troubled time,” and the message that “the Lord is our refuge in times of trouble.” Geiser prayed for those battling illness, whether personally or as medical personnel or first responders on the front lines in the fight. He prayed for those who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus.
Monroe thanked all those who made the virtual hymn sing a reality – the sound and video technicians including Mary Beth Monroe, Gari Melchers, and Tyler Lyon, in addition to the musicians. The numbers of musicians and technicians was kept to the requisite 10.
The program may be viewed at https://boxcast.tv/view/vinton-community-virtual-hymn-sing-399589. There may be another broadcast as the number of hymns suggested far outnumbered the band’s time to perform.
Local churches have been offering online worship services since their doors were closed due to the governor’s executive order limiting meetings to 10 members present. Online services will continue for the foreseeable future. The following links will connect you with worship services at Thrasher, Vinton Baptist, and First Christian: https://www.thrasherumc.org/online/, https://www.vintonbaptistchurch.org/LiveStream, and https://www.youtube.com/user/FCCVinton.