Another Tennessee Baptist Musician in Glory and We Worship
On Sunday, January 8, I attended the memorial service for Martha Ruth Moore of Paris, TN and more recently of Nashville. The service of worship and remembrance brought to mind how important funeral services of just this sort are in the worship life of the church.
First, let me say a few words about Martha Ruth Moore. I first became aware of this great lady when serving a church in another state. Martha Ruth’s Henry County Girls Chorus sang at an American Choral Directors Association conference. I was so impressed that such beautiful choral music came out of a relatively small West Tennessee town. Martha Ruth was an incredible music educator and teacher of singing as the title of her Covention Press book indicates, “Teaching Children to Sing.” In more recent days Martha Ruth demonstrated Christian grace as she endured potent physical challenges. A faithful worshiper at Crievewood Baptist in Nashville, she made her presence known by expressing kind words of encouragement quietly following Sunday worship. I would not take anything for her kind words of expression the last Sunday I saw her in worship, December 18. When the service was over she came to me, placed her soft hands on either side of my face. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You have been such a blessing to this church and to me.” She spoke such encouragement about musicianship and effectiveness. She was a giant in my eyes, and to have her blessing meant so much. Little did I know that in just over two weeks she would be gone from us.
Martha Ruth Moore’s memorial service was worship. The simplicity of singing familiar hymns from a hymnal, reading of scripture, hearing words of a friend, a vocal solo whose lyrics were scripture, and a eulogy rooted in biblical truth as well, was more than a little refreshing. I recalled hearing Dr. Robert Webber speak about the power of words, especially the Word. I remembered him talking about funerals as rite. Important concepts for us to comprehend.
In a time when so many churches are pursuing novelty as a means of making the Gospel attractive, I am grateful to hear such powerful words from scripture spoken and sung with conviction at a memorial service where friends and family have gathered to remember one who has faced life’s final war with pain on this earth. Hearing the familiar strains of John’s Gospel read in the context of being reminded of our mortality resonated with power.
While attendance at funerals as well as weddings seem to be less strong today than in past decades, there is still an important and powerful message at these gatherings. As always, our call as Christians is to be faithful. It seems to me that an important witness to our faith is made when we attend the worship held during a memorial service just like the one I attended Sunday. Furthermore we are reminded perhaps of those who are dying around us without knowing the Christ-life. We are also reminded of some powerful Christian teachings about the eternity before us.
It saddens me that some of our Tennessee church folks do not recognize the power of a worship service known as a funeral or memorial service. It is more than a matter of how many people attend a service of this nature; it is also an organic expression of faith whereby a gathering of worshipers memorialize the earthly life of a cherished friend and relative, and commit her to the Life Giver. Worship may be renewed when God’s people are more richly sensitized to connections between Heaven and Earth and the Divine presence of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings as believers engaged in faith expression.