This past Sunday, some casual curiosity might have peeked over my hometown after a miracle was pulled off to rival that of walking on water or feeding thousands with a few loves of bread and some fish. The Ohio State basketball team has been struggling, to put it rather mildly, in recent weeks to the point of their head coach being fired with less than a month remaining on the schedule. The first game after those departure proceedings was hosting the #2 ranked team in the country in the Purdue Boilermakers. Somehow, someway, they pulled it off. Perhaps just the chaos of the sport, perhaps divine intervention. Regardless, the new guy at the helm was a graduate of Upper Sandusky High School in Jake Diebler. Whether he will be staying much past March remains to be seen.

However, something else was going on in my hometown that morning. Something that didn’t receive the national television audience attention, necessarily, but still showcased a talent level that isn’t so easy to comprehend. It was the final worship with a most gifted organist at the helm for the congregation I grew up attending through my early twenties. In her current stint, she had been playing there for 30 years (she took a break beforehand for raising a family and all), helping lead many worships that stick in my spiritual memory bank.

After all, I will be the first to admit that the sermons don’t always stick. Sometimes, the readings aren’t the most inspiring, either. Maybe even the prayers won’t stir the soul. But more often than not, Diana could still more than manage to pull off her own ministry of spiritual nourishment. My first more full-scale recollection of her playing was behind the piano downstairs in our fellowship hall basement, as she was the accompanist for our junior choir. I couldn’t find a tune with two hands and a flashlight, as they say, and I’m sure I didn’t always pay attention to the director as to when exactly to come in on time for whatever song, but Diana, as many accompaniments must do, just went along with her patience and flexibility in playing the music as if we still had a song of hope to share with those in the pews.

Diana was the one sitting behind the organ as I nervously attempted to mentally and physically pull things together when leading my first worship at the home church. I’m sure my chanting was no where near pristine that day. I’m sure I was all over the place, musically and mentally, for that matter, but she never exuded frustration or angst at attempting to pull off a perfect worship musically-speaking, at least, and gave me the desperately needed foundation with her playing the keys like it was nothing to keep me moving forward, as if the Gospel can still be proclaimed with imperfect us.

Diana was the one who would be the lead musician for my ordination into this whole pastor thing. This whole pastor thing, where we young whipper-snappers, especially, attempt to pull off the new in a variety of ways, including through the songs. I know I picked a couple that evening were not part of the standard repertoire for that home congregation, and she just went along with it, with her patience and flexibility and understanding that the beauty of God can emerge in the new, too.

Another ordination happened there just a few months ago as well. Another younger pastor asked for a few hymns that were not part of the normal operating procedure. And even though I couldn’t be there in that sanctuary that Diana more than managed to fill with her own heart-warming ministry of spiritual nourishment, I could still feel it through a screen over a hundred miles away. She had pulled off what only the best musicians can do: there were a couple songs where she would play along with the assembly in the first couple verses, and then she would just let them go acapella. It may seem contradictory to credit an organist for the moments when they’re not playing at all, but sometimes it’s like a loving parent teaching their child to ride a bike and then just, all of a sudden, let them go. There’s something rather Holy-Spirit-filled in those moments, and even more rushing when it’s carried home in the final verse with the rousing organ pipes.

At the end of the worship, there was a reminder from the director of music for the congregation that not all churches are blessed with such talented organists. Thankfully, Divinity certainly is with Marlene and Steve, to say the least. However, as the awareness grows over not enough young whipper-snappers willing to go down the seminary track, we may not realize that an even greater windfall will ensue over church musicians in general. Nevertheless, we do take such people for granted.

My spiritual memory bank is filled with Christmas Eve-not-just-Silent-Nights, but soothing preludes. It includes Hallelujah choruses on Easter Sundays, yes, but the most stirring offertories as well. It continues with baptisms and Good Shepherd Sundays and Pentecosts and many many more, and not always because of the preaching or the Scripture recitation, but because of the one sitting behind the organ. They often go un-noticed unless something goes wrong, as if playing a song with all the numerous notes for their hands and feet, along with accidentals and dynamic changes and tempo switches, should just be normal standard operating procedure. And yet, for the best of them, I guess it is. It’s beyond my comprehension whatsoever, but I thank God for Diana, for Marlene, for Steve, for the countless others who will never receive the level of national television attention, but their immense talent level can surely rival a walking-on-water miracle, to be sure. For they all bring our attention to a most life-altering grace and hope and love that warrants the best of majestic artistry in sanctuaries and beyond. For all of them, thanks be to God, indeed!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad