Whether you realize it or not, we have just passed a very significant milestone in the life of our church.
I’m sixty years old. God willing, I shall soon turn sixty-one. I have been Pastor of First Baptist Church of Linton for over nineteen years now.
And I can’t count how many times over the years I have told people, “Our church organist has been playing the organ for longer than I’ve been alive. She’s been on that organ bench since the year before I was born.”
Doris Thornton and I are separated by a couple of generations, musical tastes, choice of instruments, and levels of expertise (she has far more knowledge of music and music theory than I will ever have). But I have always been amazed at how long and how excellently she has played the organ for our church.
Her son Mike Thornton recently told me that he remembers going with his mother to the old First Baptist Church building, so she could practice the hymns for Sunday’s services. He said while she played, he explored every nook and cranny of that old building. (I don’t think I can get him in trouble for that now.) And the reason he got to know that old building so well was because Doris was so dedicated to preparing for the Sunday services.
I would not intentionally do anything to make Doris feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. That isn’t my purpose now, though I fear that I will make her feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. But I can’t let this moment pass without acknowledging it and expressing profound gratitude to her.
Every year our Deacons work to find willing volunteers to serve on our church boards, committees and in other positions. It’s always a difficult task, because lots of people just say “no”. (You know who you are.)
But there are a few people who always say “yes” when they are asked to serve, or asked if they will continue to serve in the coming year. These people are a joy to ask, and when the assignments are handed out, our Deacons are always relieved when they get to ask “Sister Yes” instead of “Brother No”.
Doris Thornton has consistently been one of those people who have said “yes” every time the Deacons have asked if she would continue to play the organ for our church in the coming year. She always said, “If you want me to, and if nobody else wants to do it.” And she has done a fantastic job of playing for us for all of these years.
Musical tastes in the churches have shifted dramatically over the last thirty years or so. Often when I would go to a conference or visit another church, I would see a big church organ sitting over to the side, or even moved off of the platform onto the floor. Sometimes an individual would be introduced who would play the organ for us before the beginning of a session. We would listen as an accomplished organist would regale us with a selection of classic hymns played with great skill and expertise. And I often thought to myself, “This isn’t a bit better than what I hear Doris play for us at home practically every week.” I’ve even made that statement from the pulpit after returning from a conference.
And I know that many of our church members have looked forward to Doris’ playing every week, and derived immense enjoyment from it.
But this year, for the first time, when the Deacons asked Doris if she would play the organ for us again next year, she politely declined. She didn’t really say no. As she expressed it to me: “It’s just time.”
I learned about this from the Deacons before our Annual Business Meeting on December 4th. I wanted to say something to Doris about it…but how do you adequately acknowledge six decades of faithful service? “Thank you” just doesn’t really cover it.
I didn’t know how I was going to talk to her about it, and I surprised myself when, on a moment’s impulse, I walked over to her right before an evening service recently.
Let me interrupt myself to say that I have watched Doris faithfully show up to play the organ for us on Sunday nights as well as Sunday mornings, going over to the west side of the church all by herself in order to turn on the organ and get ready to play. Most of our Sunday evening congregation sits on the east side of the sanctuary, more or less in one section of seats. Doris would play the organ for our hymn singing, then quietly take a seat by herself on the west side of the church, near to the rest of us, but not so that she might disturb the flow of the service. Sometimes I would plan an evening service in which I played all the songs on my guitar, in part so that Doris wouldn’t have to sit by herself.
At the risk of embarrassing her further, I’d like to share with you what I said to Doris that Sunday night. As I walked over to the organ, I found my throat getting tight. I told Doris, “I hope I can get through this without crying.” Then I told her this: “I don’t know if you know how much I admire and respect you. I’m a guitar player, but I recognize excellence in other musicians, and I have seen your love of music and your devotion to playing the organ. And I have seen so many people over the years that start something, and then a short time later tell me they just have to quit. You have been playing the organ in this church faithfully for all these years, and as a pastor I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I just wanted you to know.”
And I want our whole church to know, too. We owe Doris Thornton a debt of gratitude for over six decades of helping our church to sing and to worship God. Except for a few faithful Sunday School teachers I’ve met, I know of no other example of such faithful dedication to serving God in a local church.
The Bible says that God filled the craftsmen Bezalel and Oholiab “with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship” (Exodus 31:3). God used those men “to devise artistic designs” in the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:4). But God has given Doris Thornton the gift of music, and enabled her to play the organ artistically, for the blessing of our people and to help us worship God. God’s gift of music is real, but that doesn’t take anything away from how hard Doris has worked to achieve excellence on her instrument. They say that it takes a musician 10,000 hours of practice on an instrument in order to achieve a professional level of expertise. Doris has long ago surpassed that mark, and she has freely and willingly shared her gift and the fruits of her labors with our church.
So on behalf of our church, let me say: Thank you, Doris Thornton! “Thank you” isn’t really enough, but “Thank you!” We praise God and are grateful to you for how faithfully you have played the organ and helped us to sing to God for all these years. May God bless you for your service to our Savior and to our church.
In heartfelt appreciation,
Pastor David Tyra and the congregation of First Baptist Church