The noted singer Bryan Duncan is quoted as saying, “I was raised in a Pentecostal Church, but I’m in recovery now!” My story is similar: I like to tell people I grew up on a church pew of the Pentecostal Christian Church of Mullica Hill, N.J. Rev. James Demola, Sr., Pastor. I say this because every time the church doors were open, we were there! A stickler for theology and doctrine, Pastor Demola also bathed the congregation in hymns, hymns, hymns! I believe that the great hymns of the faith are an important part of our culture. They often contain deep doctrinal insight, and they inform us about who we are and what we’ve come through as a people. That is why I like to program them into our service whenever I can.
I believe in corporate worship. The Psalmist declares, “But You are Holy, O You that inhabit the praises of Israel.” Ellicot’s Commentary explains that in this passage, "The ever-ascending praises of His people became a throne for the Divine King.” I believe this is what happens when we gather as a congregation to worship. We remind ourselves of the things Christ has done for us and of the truths that His Word reveals about all aspects of our journey as disciples of Christ. We celebrate those truths which remind us of the eternal solid foundation for our hope which can reset our perspective as we face the day-to-day challenges that can often discourage us. Our corporate worship experience is a refuge as we face the storms of life!
This is why I say, "I’m expecting great things to happen during our worship experience" during the greeting each Sunday morning; we are meeting God here! I believe our worship service is very much like recharging our batteries! I want people to come here and experience God! How’s that for ambition?
I believe music is a gift from God to mankind and is to be shared. I have been involved in music in one form or another throughout my entire life. Music seemed to provide the doors that opened for me in life. I had a thousand piano lessons as a child, played trumpet all through high school in the marching band. I went to college for music and transferred to ASU where I received my degree in instrumental music as a String Bass player. Being a bassist provided me the opportunity to work with some great musicians along the way that I might not have had access to otherwise. I have also taught hundreds of private lessons as a bass teacher, and a few more on guitar, voice and piano. The funny thing about teaching is: the more you share, the more you yourself learn! While continuing my education culminating in my graduating from ASU in 1995, I spent the next 20 years playing bass and singing for weddings, parties, corporate functions and bar mitzvah’s and bat mitzvah’s. So many of these, in fact, that I think I am actually now a little Jewish strictly through osmosis! Mazel Tov, everyone!
Since 2007 I have performed in a duo that performs a music program for seniors at retirement communities all throughout the East Valley. This has been a great way to learn about our national popular culture, which I have made an assiduous study of in order to better communicate with seniors in a language that they uniquely understand. This is important because music has been shown to help these seniors better adapt to the situations they find themselves in today require less medication to calm them, and help them re-connect with who they used to be. I guess I believe in music therapy, too!
In addition to the secular music, I have also performed at a number of Churches all throughout the Valley since my graduation. I have worn many hats: Worship Director, bassist, keyboardist, vocalist, guitarist, music producer, arranger, substitute musician, sound man, vacuum cleaner, laundryman, chief cook and bottle washer, if you know what I mean!
There was a time when I had hoped for a career in church music. I had some success for awhile but I reached a point where I thought that I had exhausted all of my opportunities. The only “church gig” that I had left, in fact, was here at LOC, where for 12 years I happily played bass in what has come to be a terrific band! In fact, although our weekly Service starts at 9:00 am, I have always felt like worship actually starts when John Lewis takes his sticks out of the bag around 8:00! He and Mike Ozuna have been the nucleus of a terrific bunch of musicians that have come and gone throughout the years. To me they are pure Gold! Being able to perform with musicians of such a high caliber is, in itself, a kind of religious experience. Their high skill level also allows the church to have the ability to successfully utilize a wide variety of music. In other words, there’s not much we can’t do! Their efforts are buttressed by the guy who has taken my place, Mike King, who is, along with John and Mike, one of the most in-demand bassists in the Valley!
In addition to those in the band, the people for whom I work have also been gracious and helpful. Chief among all these is Jung Csuy, who has endured the 5000 questions and problems I have put before her at all hours of the day and night; all with a smile! I just keep finding myself saying, Thank you, Jung!
Since I have begun leading worship here, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of the congregation. I have received lots of great feedback, support, music ideas, and tips from everyone I have come in contact with and for that I am really grateful. We have also had a few folks from the congregation come up and sing from time to time, and I trust we will have more to come in the near future as I get up to speed on all of my duties here. As I talk to people here about the things that are going on, and I keep finding myself saying, “I think the best is yet to come!” And I do believe that!