Tennessee Musician’s Memorial Provides Powerful Worship
Amidst some wonderful Christmas music presentations and worship services through the season of Advent and Christmas came the news of the passing of Bill Robinson Sr. Bill was a retired Minister of Music, having served First Baptist Church in Kingsport for twenty-nine years. He also served First Baptist in Clarksville and Smithwood Baptist in Knoxville. His daughter, Susan Hoover is the current music minister for Kingsport First Baptist, and son Bob Robinson is Minister of Music at Central Baptist Fountain City in Knoxville. Bill Sr. was a quiet giant of church music in more ways than we could enumerate. One of my first memories of Camp Carson Youth Music Camp (when I was in High School mind you) was of the Robinson family playing their stringed instruments. The influences of Bill through music and his kind spirit are legend. We could easily spend this post on the accomplishments and impact of Bill Sr.’s life upon so many through his own church music ministry, much less the continuing ministry and music leadership that is multiplied through his children and their families. Instead, I would like to draw your attention to the powerful worship that was the memorial service held in the sanctuary of First Baptist Maryville.
Let me begin by saying I have a deep conviction of faith practice, by training and personal spiritual conclusion, that funerals are services of Christian worship. As such, like all Christian worship, their centerpiece is to be Christ, not us, the Gospel, not our accomplishments, God’s story, and ours only in so far as to demonstrate how our story fits within His. The well-ordered, richly scripture-saturated service of worship remembering the life of Bill Robinson Sr. was indeed a Gospel feast. Of course, with a music minister daughter and son helping to plan, what else would we expect? Another son, Tom, mused with me about the detail of the planning given these professional ministers’ input. I say with some relational bias as a longtime family friend, however, that the worshipful clarity of God-honoring was as pronounced in this service as any memorial service I have ever attended. Here were some key factors upon which I encourage music ministry leaders to ponder:
- The pastoral leaders facilitating the service never made the service to seem remotely about them. There was a well-balanced tone of comfort, remembrance, faith, and hope.
- Music and singing were predominant. While I grant this is unique given the career of the deceased and several of his family, the purposeful participation drew attention to meaning and significance far beyond just the reminder that Bill Sr. had been a music minister extraordinaire. There were opportunities for musical reflection, and much opportunity for participatory singing.
- Laughter prompted pastoral ministry. Stories shared about Bill’s life brought appropriately timed lightness and laughter to remind worshipers of a life lived full, but ultimately each story pointed to a Christlikeness in the man made possible by the One in Whom his faith rested, namely Jesus Christ.
- The worship had a beautiful Gospel-shape within itself, from the instrumental prelude through the final biblical benediction and responsorial Christmas season sending hymn, there was a rich rhythm of revelation and response, and adequate opportunity for rich personal involvement in the faith community gathered to worship.
Seems to me it is symptomatic of our “all about me” culture to center events around ourselves. As ministers who plan weddings and funerals, it is imperative that we remember that these are services of Christian worship. Mothers of brides and family members of deceased may ask that we compromise the setting or focus to feature their loved ones. Planning processes for these services and the counseling environment that surrounds them provide important opportunity for pastoral care and disciple-making. In the case of a funeral there is occasion to remind family and friends of the theology of Christian funerals, and to draw out the distinctions of a believer’s passing from this life into the presence of the Lord. The Christian funeral finds ways to affirm Christian belief in Christ’s victory over death, commends the deceased to God’s mercy, and comforts the survivors. We offer shepherding guidance to avoid wrong messages at a memorial service. We can honor a loved one without implying a works salvation.
Attending the service that paid tribute to the life of Bill Robinson Sr. provided beautiful worship of the living God. We were reminded that Christ is the ultimate triumph over sin and the grave, that this departed loved one is in the presence of this same Jesus, and that we have grace through the Holy Spirit who remains with us and comforts us, even through the embrace and fellowship of one another.
Our love and prayers continue with this family, Claudia Erb, and others who have lost loved ones in recent days.