By Joy Gardner
LANDRUM—In early October 2020, two friends (Pete and Bonnie) and I, who happened to be fellow choir and Landrum United Methodist Church members, were sitting on the front porch of the church office, socially distanced six feet apart, while working on our sign-up time for our annual Pumpkin Patch.
Of course, our main topic of conversation was COVID-19. I conveyed to them how “unfinished” I felt as a musician playing the piano or organ during our worship services but without any singing. I missed hearing the singing voices, not just the Chancel Choir, but I missed the congregational singing, too. I commented that I was sure the congregation was, or soon would be, tired of hearing me play instrumental music only.
I was venting my frustrations about the COVID-19 restrictions. Like many others, I understood the need, but I felt the restrictions had adversely affected our worship services.
During the conversation I said, “I wish we could find a church that would be willing to let us borrow their handbells.” I felt if we could borrow bells, having members willing to learn how to ring the bells would be an excellent, different addition to the music portion of our worship services.
When I quieted long enough to give someone else the opportunity to speak, Bonnie mentioned she knew of a possibility.
Bonnie has been an active worker at Salkehatchie for years. Over those years of service, she has made many acquaintances both around and outside our local area. Bonnie said she would reach out to one of those acquaintances, the Rev. Ed Stallworth, who at that time was serving as pastor at the nearby Inman UMC. I knew we would not receive an immediate answer, but eagerly, I asked Bonnie often in the days thereafter if she had heard from Pastor Ed.
Finally, her call came: The trustees at Inman UMC had agreed to share their bells. It didn’t take long for us to meet Pastor Ed and pick up the hand bells. We felt such excitement for a new adventure for LUMC and lots of appreciation to Pastor Ed and Inman UMC.
I assembled a group of ladies, some who could read music, and some who could not.
Now these same ladies—who initially had little to no musical background and who didn’t know what a quarter note, half note or whole note looked like or even meant—have developed an ability to read music and are now amazing handbell ringers. What a good time we have at our rehearsals. We work hard, and we laugh—a lot!
In its history, Landrum UMC has never had a dedicated space for a choir. The choir robes and music folders were long stored in a walled-in closet in the back of the Fellowship Hall. Other music essentials were kept in a secondary room, approximately 10- by 10-feet, that functioned dually as an office and most recently served as storage for handbell cases and all the handbell necessities. Choir rehearsals (including handbells) took place in the fellowship hall unless another group was meeting there. On those occasions, choir rehearsals were held in the sanctuary, had to be rescheduled or didn’t take place at all.
Sunday morning warm-up rehearsals were held in the Fellowship Hall, jointly with “Munch and Mingle” gatherings. The louder the choir sang, the louder people talked, disturbing the activities of both groups.
But with the arrival of the handbells, and the need for lots of extra space, the trustees revisited an 11-year-old dream: the development of an actual music department for the church.
The music program received approval from the trustees earlier this year for the use of one wing of the second-story of the Landrum UMC Family Life Center. The space consists of four rooms: a chancel choir room, handbell choir room, children’s music room and choir office. We even have a separate storage closet now.
It has become Landrum UMC’s first authentic music department.
It would have been nice if the transformation had been as easy as saying it. A lot of time and hard work was spent cleaning up rooms unused for more than five years. The first step was the installation of a chair lift to provide assistance for accessing the second floor. The cleanup and removal of old furnishings, teaching materials and Sunday school supplies took a couple of weeks. Next, old carpeting was removed, with the hallway carpeting being extremely difficult to remove because of the prior overuse of glue.
Of course, during the tedious removal of the carpeting, the air conditioning unit failed (in early July, no less) and work had to be stopped until the unit could be replaced. Finally by late July, the new flooring was installed. New paint was next, and some walls required several coats of paint. Closets were ordered, cubbies were framed, additional chairs were purchased and furniture and music were moved in.
After tireless efforts of many who gave so generously of their time and monies, Landrum UMC held its first open house celebration for its music department following the morning worship service on Oct. 3.
By sharing this story, I hope others who feel their music or other church program is struggling will find some inspiration, especially after the obstacles presented to us this past year.
In an earlier article, “Fresh paint and Positive Changes” (September Advocate), St. John UMC, Greenville, shared how fresh paint and positive changes can create a whole new environment. We have found this is certainly true for our music department, and we hope other churches will also.
God has blessed all of us and continues to bless us in ways we have yet to realize. Praise be to God!
Gardner is director of music at Landrum UMC, Landrum.