WORSHIP EXPRESSED THROUGH DEVOTED FINGERS AND HEART
Among the many blessings of my ministry life has been the rich gift of capable and spirited accompanists. It will come as no surprise to those with whom I have served that my own keyboard skills are significantly lacking. I have had Sunday School classes and Senior Adult groups before to ask me if I would play piano for a gathering, and my usual response is, “I do not think you can sing that slow.” My own inability on the black and white keys has served to just increase my appreciation all the more for those who can play, whether by reading the music, playing by ear, or the most hallowed who can do it all. Such was the case with Linda Grammer, former pianist for many years at Crievewood Baptist Church in Nashville.
When asked to serve Crievewood as an interim music ministry leader following the tenure of David Guy, I had two conditions related to the church’s immediate plans regarding the interim period. One of those conditions was that the talented and dedicated duo of Linda Grammer and Joyce Byrd, pianist and organist respectfully, would continue to serve. At our first Wednesday rehearsal Linda told me she had indications that cancer had returned to her body. Nonetheless, she committed to doing all she could through the time I would serve as interim, and that is precisely what she did. Linda and Joyce had played together so long they literally knew what the other was thinking, and could tell where they were going together, whether the music leader knew where he was at all times or not. In the short time I served Crievewood before current leader, Ross Rainwater joined the staff, Linda, Joyce and I had some good laughs, shared tearful prayers at moments and were able to keep worship leadership at the forefront of our work together. These two were amazing in adapting to requests, adjusting to Sundays when choir forces were lower than usual, and just generally adding their special touch to musical expression in worship. All the while both of them had physical struggles, and Linda’s battle with disease intensified all along the way.
The first time I recall hearing Linda play was at the memorial service for longtime Baptist Sunday School Board/Lifeway instrumental music leader, Gerald Armstrong. I recall entering the sanctuary for that service with a heart deeply lamenting the loss of a Baptist musical giant. The music of the piano that day washed over me like a cool waterfall on a hot Summer day. As a musician I appreciated the musicality of the expression at the keyboard, but there was something so beyond that. Somehow there was heart in the sound. The music ministered to me. I could not know for certain, but at once could not imagine anyone hearing this not being served by its beauty, not to mention the word associations with familiar hymntunes stylized by such gifted fingers. That experience actually stayed in my mind even to the time years later when I was invited to serve that church in an interim capacity.
News of Linda’s passing came to me through David Guy with whom I was actually having lunch last Friday. For those of us who remain on this side of eternity, the passing of a fellow servant brings reflection on the gift that person was in the days spent serving together. I remember meetings with Linda when she served on the Board of Directors for the Tennessee Dramatic Arts Festival. Challenges were always faced with such grace and kindness. Linda set the bar high in displaying such an attitude. Talking about the appropriate place for puppets in the church’s ministry seemed to offer us good opportunity to find laughter needed when budgets were shrinking and participation in events went wanting. That ability, however, really characterized Linda as we knew her. Such a spirit is rooted in deep faith, and should tell us much about how someone whose hands were hurting to the bone could nonetheless minister with incredible passion.
Remembering Linda Grammer today is a good reminder to me of the rich gift of those who serve and have served churches as pianists and organists through thick and thin of music ministry in our churches. Regardless of directions for future days of that ministry, many, many people have been ministered to through the gifted and devoted fingers of women and men who, like Linda, dedicated their time and talent to serve the Lord and His church. Thank you, Lord, for the days we have had to hear them, sing and serve with them. May we treat them with the dignity, respect, and appreciation they deserve. We know Linda’s great reward is in Your presence even now for which we offer you musical praise inspired by the promise before us to see her yet again one day.