June 22, 2014
Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
Letter #336: Sing-Sing Prison
From the time I began to enjoy playing piano, I wanted to play piano for church, and after my first opportunity to play a solo at age thirteen, I wanted to be a church pianist. I’d watch our church pianists, carefully noting everything they did, but a full decade went by before I was asked to be a full-time church pianist. I felt the Lord asking me to turn down the invitation, and another few years went by before I was asked to minister at another church, the first of five I played for prior to my incarceration.
Since that time, I’ve been blessed to play piano at each of the five prisons I’ve been to, a source of great joy to me. Yet it wasn’t until I made the difficult choice to step aside from the pianist position nearly two years ago that I found an even greater joy in choral directing.
As a worship leader, I’d done plenty of complex choral arranging, and I developed a passion to work with my worship team, to prepare and equip them to lead worship themselves. At the same time, I’d been developing the La Palma Community Choir to perform for special events. This singing stuff felt new to me at first, since I’d only been part of a few choirs and worship teams, but never the leader. Having more formal training than most guys in prison made me the de facto leader since I came to prison, and I began helping guys learn to sing in harmony six years ago. I still get letters from a few members of that first choir.
Slowly, my confidence began to build, and I begged God to give me the wisdom and abilities I needed. He has graciously supplied my needs, and I’ve grown to love leading choir. Until recently, the Community Choir was my only musical outlet.
A couple months ago, much of the Messianic church’s leadership team and musicians left for California to prepare for parole. Noticing a gaping hole that began to negatively affect the worship in services, I proposed to the remaining leadership that I step in to assist in the transition to a new worship team. I’d helped in the past, but this time I really felt the Lord leading me to bring unity to the rag-tag group.
With the full backing and grateful support of the church leadership, I began meeting with the two remaining musicians and recruiting a few others. I assessed skill levels and unique abilities, then began implementing my philosophy of worship—not different from many others, but often unfamiliar to new guys. For example, my primary goal is that we support the spoken and sung Word of God, and my primary “pet peeve” is anything that causes distractions from that goal.
The worship team has been enthusiastic about my help, and many services I’ve sat in the congregation while they lead, or I’ll play keyboard and drums along with the songs. My hope is that the guys will continue to grow in skill and confidence as they humbly lead. So far, the leadership and congregation love the beautiful professionalism and purity of the worship time. And, we don’t have instrumentalists showing off anymore, treating the altar area as their stage.
I’ve also continued to arrange and direct music for the Christian Spanish choir, who performed perfectly for the first time this last week. Now that I’ve been placed into the Construction class full-time, however, I worried about my involvement in these and the Community Choir, which practices for six hours every Friday during school time.
Gratefully, God has granted me favor with the construction instructor and Ms. Carr, the school principal, allowing me to miss three of the ten training sessions each week to teach the choirs, as long as I continue to stay at the top of the class. Thank you, Lord!
Thank you for your prayers that I be sensitive to what God wants me to do.