Developing an Orchestra in the Intergenerational Church—from 7-30+ players in five years.

When I arrived at my current church 5 1/2 years ago, I was tasked with developing an orchestra for our church. At the time, there were about 7-8 players (all but two were not adults) and they had met a few times of the fall prior to my arrival with the goal of playing for the Christmas season of 2012. Prior to that, the church used piano, organ, and a drummer to accompany congregational song. Needless to say, I had to come up with a plan to utilize these willing players so they felt confident and ready to lead in worship. This task was already tricky since we were utilizing not only varying generations, but varying skill levels as well. After some trial and error and now several years reflecting on how we got to almost 35 players in our orchestra in about 5 years, I’ve come up with some points that helped us along the way. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful if you’re starting an orchestra:

  1. Pray, Pray, Pray. I literally cried out to God to send us players with servant hearts, musical skill, and commitment to be in rehearsals and services. From the beginning there were some critical instruments/people we needed to move forward and I know God’s hand of provision is why we are where we are today. I’m still crying out to God today even though we literally are out of space AND we’ve already extended our platform once!
  2. Use your current players as scouts for new players. Those first players were so excited to be playing in our church and regularly looked and listened for others in our fellowship who had played before to invite to our team. Within the first six months of my time here, we had added at least 4-5 players. In fact that’s about how many have been added each year since I’ve arrived. MANY of these players come because someone in the orchestra found out they played and invited them to check us out.
  3. Rehearse them to confidence and fluency. After I arrived, the orchestra played every week. We had long rehearsals where I was very detailed in my instructions of  the “road map” of the song. We played things multiple times so the fluency was there. It was tedious but necessary. Basically, we spent 75 minutes a week on 4 tunes for the congregation. Aiming to forgo distractions in the worship service was my number one musical goall. We started with easy congregational songs (even familiar hymns) to build confidence. That confidence resulted in better playing. Better playing resulted in higher quality offerings to God in worship. As soon as our quality started getting better, we needed fewer “scouts” because people just started inquiring about playing. Excellence breeds excellence!
  4. Challenge them but don’t overwhelm them. We use a variety of charts from various publishers with a varying degree of difficulty. In the beginning I aimed to balance out more complicated with simple orchestrations. Likewise, we didn’t even attempt to accompany the choir until about 18 months after I arrived because I wanted to make sure they had learned/rehearsed/played/led the roughly 125 tunes in our congregational song corpus. Even that first anthem we played for, the Word publication of the tune By Our Love, was chosen specifically because the orchestration is relatively simple. Today, we can handle most anything the church music publishers write. It’s fun to think back at the evolution.
  5. Feature them. After we started playing regularly for the congregation AND choir, we started playing stand-alone orchestra preludes/features, etc. It’s giving them a place to “shine” and greater ownership of the orchestra ministry.
  6. Use all your generations. At this moment, four generations in our church play in our orchestra. Ten of those players are under the age of 20; all my string players (7) are students. The students who play for us are excellent players and the sight-reading they get to do for me helps them in their school bands and orchestra. Without using all our generations, we wouldn’t be an orchestra…we’d be a band…we’d be smaller, less effective, and have less color/timbre. Teach them to serve for life. Invest in your students.
  7. Love your orchestra family. Make sure you love on these players as much as you would your choir members. They have at least as much to learn as the choir each week and are just as important to the music ministry team. Be involved in their lives. If you use care group leaders, as I do for all my groups, make sure you USE them to help you do care ministry for these players.

In my next blog I want to talk about some of the actual literature we used (congregational song mostly) as we moved forward. Our church has ALWAYS been intergenerational so they’ve never been through a musical style split. They embraced changes in music even before I got there. However, when the “sound” of the songs, arrangements, number of players, etc. began changing, some finesse was necessary. Even with our varied musical styles, there has always been the push to be more traditional or more contemporary from some. So, I will talk about how we embraced our intergenerational context to be who WE ARE, not any other church. I’m still a student of who we are…partly because who we are is constantly evolving; we are double the size we were when I arrived. Stay tuned!

One Body with Many Parts

Sometimes I like to read through familar passages of scripture using different translations than I normally use. Recently, I’ve been using the CEV version while reading through some of Paul’s letters. When I got to 1 Corinthians 12, I was particularly moved by the syntax used to describe the function of the Body of Christ. While I’ve read this passage numerous times, the words seemed to take on deeper meaning for me this time.  Here some of the passages from 1 Cor. 12 (CEV):

14 Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. 15 Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? 16 Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? 17 If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. 18 But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19 A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20 It takes many parts to make a single body. 21 That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. 22 In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest…. 24 put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25 He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26 If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. 27 Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.

My heartbeat is helping every person in my sphere of influence find where they fit in the body of Christ, particularly as it relates to music. No matter what age one is, there’s a place for serving. It pains me to see music ministries in churches that underutilize the gifts and talents giving to church members by relegating music leadership to only a few. I’ve heard many fine singers and players wax nostalgic of the days when they could play and/or sing in their church music ministry. Nowadays, they sit in their seats because they are no longer valued. Paul thinks differently…just because you aren’t a rock star singer doesn’t been you are not a part of the body (v. 14 my paraphrase). I couldn’t agree more. Furthermore, the personalities, timbres, musicality, etc. of the WHOLE body may not be a perfect musical offering, but it’s an authentic one for sure. Paul speaks to this in verse 22 when he says, “in fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest.” WOW! Then I love what he follows with, “He [God] did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others.” Anyone else hear what I heard? Love your neighbor as yourself…consider the interests of others other than yourself…live in mutual submission to one another. Hurt when others hurt…live in unity together. Folks, we need to get serious about truly caring about others in the body. I’m ALL for evangelism and reaching out, but when we focus entirely on reaching out and not loving/caring for our own people, the unbeliever will not see the love of Christ being displayed. Scripture reminds us that the “world” will see Jesus in our love for one another. We MUST be unified before we are able to reach others for Christ

To live in unity takes work. A few days ago I was saddened by a conversation I overheard from a small group of older adults (not at my church or by my church members) that basically trashed contemporary forms and expressions of musical worship. The argument was completely selfish. I was saddened because these folks, by estimation, were believers. They had no interest in working together with other parts of the body to seek to understand the musical expressions of many generations. Don’t think I’m pointing fingers at older adults solely; these types of behavior are found in people of all ages. Anytime someone(s) think they are/viewpoint or style is more important than someone else, the body is not in unity.  Even Paul reminds us that the parts of the body that seem insignificant are actually important.

It takes all parts of the body to live in unity. For those churches that are not thriving, my questions are: is your church unified in purpose? Are there folks like the ones I mentioned that are unwavering in their desire for anything in their worship service to change because they don’t LIKE it? Are the various generations in your church valued? Are the older generations investing in the younger generations…not just by giving leadership over younger members, but actually working together by valuing contributions from all? If not, then this lack of humility may be used by the enemy to destroy the body from within.

I don’t know about you, but I would imagine if I couldn’t smell, I may not realize the joy of fresh baked bread, flowers, and cookies in the oven. If I could hear, I would’nt hear the music that I such an intergral part of my life and ministry. Would I be alive? Yes, but I would not be WHOLE. If we miss the JOY of developing relationships across generational lines, we miss the wholeness of being a part of the body of Christ.

TOGETHER (not apart) we are the body of Christ. EACH of us is part of that body. EVERYONE. 

Shared Leadership

If any church claims to be truly intergenerational, her leadership must reflect the generational diversity of the church. To be clear, there is little need for an 8 year old with limited perspective to make unilateral, major decisions requiring a broader perspective of someone older. However, there are definitely ways that folks of all ages can be integral in shaping the vision and practices of many church ministries. The concept of “shared leadership” simply means that folks from all backgrounds (and ages) have the opportunity to lead (both in planning and execution of various ministry areas). Music ministry is a great way to implement the use of shared leadership. Here are are a couple of considerations when implementing this strategy:

  1. Implement worship leadership planning team(s) with members from all generations.  In this process those seasoned leaders invest in the younger, while the younger gives fresh ideas. This is potentially tricky, but allow those younger members opportunities to look at events, programs, and times of worship with fresh perspective. As a seasoned leader, ask questions of those younger members about their understanding of the worship experience and what might resonate with them to help them connect to God. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

    My 10 year old son LOVES to doodle and draw during a sermon. Having plenty of room for notes (not always text notes—but pictures) allows him to stay focused and engaged. If your church doesn’t have room on your worship guide for this, consider having a separate worship guide for those creative types. In fact if the theme/scripture/application for the day may be added to this guide, that would help engage those (adults too) that are primarily visual and kinestetic learners.

  2. Develop musical leadership from all generations in your church. We value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s a very intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We do this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way. Sometimes, for instance, the developing leader gets very excited about trying something new, but hasn’t considered the theological content or the context of the situation when giving leadership to planning and executing worship experiences.

Next week, I will discuss some of the tensions and struggles that may arise from developing nextgen leaders and how we as seasoned leaders can encourage without stifling the energy, creativity, and passion of these budding leaders.

 

The Wonderful Grace of Jesus

“Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness…” John 1:16

I loved going to church as a child and youth. At the time, I didn’t realize this “holy habit” of regular church attendance would serve me well since God placed a call on my life to vocational music ministry. Naturally, I was drawn to the music, but I’ll be the first to admit I loved learning about God’s word through the teaching and preaching of some very Godly men also. But the Word of God that was hidden in heart (other than the scripture I memorized) came through the content of the songs we sang. Now I enjoyed the music on Sunday mornings with the choir leading (of course), but I LOVED Sunday night musical worship. Maybe it was because it was more informal, or that we used a second hymnal that had songs that were more fun to sing, but regardless, much of the hymnody that has become a part of my personal musical DNA was wrought on Sunday evenings.

One of my all-time favorites to sing on Sunday nights was “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” Perhaps it was the bouncy, catchiness of the tune or the fact that the men and the ladies got to do separate parts…nevertheless, I thought it was a lot of fun to sing. And I LOVED stretching my voice at the end of each chorus to sing the high G on “praise His name!”  While the song was fun to sing, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I fully understood why we were singing about how wonderful GRACE was. I didn’t realize that the text of that song, which is now firmly implanted in my heart and mind, would be my theme of God’s redemptive work in my life. We all need grace. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul reminds us that “in Him we have redemption through His blood, according to the RICHES of His grace.” This means it COSTS something and I soon realized God’s grace is not only rich in abundance, but it was BOUGHT on Calvary. The first line says it all, “wonderful grace of Jesus, GREATER than ALL my sin.” His grace is greater than our need, our failures, and our sin.

So today, as we journey in our various places, may the riches of grace  overwhelm us and remind us that we have the victory through Jesus Christ! Sing with me…

 

  1. Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Greater than all my sin;
    How shall my tongue describe it,
    Where shall its praise begin?
    Taking away my burden,
    Setting my spirit free;
    For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

Refrain:
Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus,
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea;
Higher than the mountain, sparkling like a fountain,
All-sufficient grace for even me!
Broader than the scope of my transgressions,
Greater far than all my sin and shame;
Oh, magnify the precious Name of Jesus,
Praise His Name!

  1. Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Reaching to all the lost,
    By it I have been pardoned,
    Saved to the uttermost;
    Chains have been torn asunder,
    Giving me liberty;
    For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.
  2. Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Reaching the most defiled,
    By its transforming power,
    Making him God’s dear child,
    Purchasing peace and heaven
    For all eternity—
    And the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

Friendship Banquet

The main reason intergenerational ministry happens at our church is all of our leadership is firmly committed that it’s the most biblical model for ongoing ministry. While I am certainly a champion for intergenerational ministry, especially worship of which I give primary leadership, I am one of many who make sure we intentionally look for ways to promote intergenerational relationships in our local church. It’s a joy to serve with like-minded servants.

Later this month our children’s ministry and our older adult ministry are teaming together to host a “Friendship Banquet” here at the church. When I spoke with our Children’s director about it, she said she learned about this idea for building intergenerational relationships from a children’s pastor in Oklahoma. I’m excited about this opportunity for children to have this opportunity. Here are some of the details should you want to design a similar event in your church:

Friendship Banquet

Our children will meet with our older adults (Golden Agers) in a few weeks. This event is a great way for our children to not only serve our Golden Agers, but also to get to know them in a fun context. This event is designed not only to build relationships, but also to help all ages realize they have far more in common than they think. Many of our children have grandparents already, but they may not know many other older adults. Research shows that children need many connections with older adults during their formative years. Likewise, older adults need to feel like they are still able to make an impact on children’s lives. It’s a win-win!  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

 

Investing in #nextgen

This past week was Georgia Baptist Music Camp (Surge 150) at the GA Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa. Students from all over Georgia had a blast this week singing, playing instruments, learning new technology, playing in the lake and ballfields, and learning more about Jesus. This year, I had ten of our students from Ivy Creek; there are some in each of the three diferent age camps. Many of these students have been coming to camp for several years and they love the time of musical training, fellowship, and spiritual growth over these 6 days of camp.

While you expect the camp to include musical training, it’s the relationships built through the week that also make a significant impact on the students. For instance, I was speaking with some of the other faculty and sponsors about the students in their “family groups.” These family groups meet at the end of the day for devotion, prayer, and just to talk. One group leader told me of a special time talking with a student who is struggling in many areas, especially their family situation. This student needed an adult to speak and pray with that wasn’t in their normal sphere of influence. The stories could go on and on. The neatest part? This leader is probably 60 years older than the student and yet the student wanted to seek wise counsel. The leader spoke of how encouraging it was to invest in our next generations…what an encouragement.

During the week, I caught up with one young man that was in my family group three years ago. He is a very soft spoken guy; it took several minutes of asking questions for me to get him to have a conversation with me. He spent most of his time looking down at his food. Finally, when I got him talking about music, and how he can use his gifts for the Lord, he lit up like a Christmas tree and I saw him come alive. He just needed someone to talk with and take some time to notice him.

Perhaps my favorite part of the week was having some conversations with students who sense the call the ministry. I am thankful these students are responding to the call to build the Kingdom of God. I remember my own call at the age of 13. I was sure God was calling me, but had so many questions. I know God placed strategic leaders in my life to affirm that call and spur me on. And now, what a humble privilege to be a small part in investing in this next generation. May we be faithful to invest in the coming days.

I challenge all music leaders to find ways to get your students to camps and events such as Surge 150, because there will be others in your ministries God is calling. How will you invest in those lives?

Normal is Different for Everyone

Normal is different for everyone. In the context of intergenerational worship, our normative worship practices look quite different from church to church, denomination to denomination, and even cultural contexts. But, if you think about it, everyone has a preconceived (or experienced) notion of corporate worship. In the last twenty years, the churches I’ve served have had different forms of normal worship practices…and that’s okay. I’ve also been overseas to several Baptist churches that are theologically similar to me, yet their worship expression vary!****Disclaimer- I am firmly theologically Southern Baptist and I am not espousing that anything goes in worship. I am merely suggesting that some of the elements of our worship experiences will differ globally, yet still retain the word-centric, theologically conservative foundation essentially of the evangelic church.

Within the last year, I’ve been reading a book by author Sandra Maria Van Opstal entitled, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World. The emphasis of the book is on worship practices in multi-cultural settings, which has become a hot topic of discussion due to the ever-changing landscape of ethic diversity in our communities and churches. Because my mind is always seemingly “geared” towards intergenerational worship and how best to involve all ages in worship leadership, I couldn’t help but read this text and find similarities between the struggles of multi-cultural and intergenerational worship. Here are some points of salient points related to diversity in worship and how they might intersect with the conversation related to intergenerational worship:

  1. We are all ethnic. There is no “normal! Good doesn’t mean the same thing in all cultures. Outside of biblical mandates of worship and our denominational theology based on biblical truth, our normative practices of worship are no better than anyone else’s.
  2. Worship involving people from many nations and cultural contexts is as important/biblical as interrelating all generations. Both multi-cultural and IG worship are biblical in that God calls ALL to the table of grace from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s not our personal preferences or normative practices that make worship authentic, but our response to the One who has initiated the relationship.
  3. Worship must be intentional to be spiritual formative. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul instructs the church (the community of faith of all ages and races) to be shaped by worship as he writes, “but we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Yes, it is important that we worship authentically and with discipline. We must practice intentionality so our worship is organic and flows naturally. Without intentionality, we simply go through the motions. As I talk with other leaders, I find those that are disciplined in their approach to spiritual formation (especially in corporate worship) there is a FOCUS on biblical truth that cannot be swayed. I believe those churches (and leaders) who are pulled into the gimmicky trends of church movements and fads are often unintentional. This was especially true when I talked with leaders of intergenerational worship ministries. The more intentional they were, the greater the focus on the biblical merits of worshiping together. This includes cross/multi-cultural contexts for the same reasons…intentional inclusion of music from various global sources (and inclusion of folks in your ministry from various races) will help your congregation see that we are all part of larger body of connected believers.
  4. Worship has a communal focus. The aim for corporate worship is NOT individual expression, but communal formation of faith. I’ve already written about the need more community- based lyrics in the intergenerational church here:Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs, but the same thing could be said for music from other cultural contexts and expressions. When we ONLY use expressions of worship that reflect our church’s “normal” or personal preference, then we alienate ourselves from being culturally and generationally diverse.

There is more that could be mentioned, but in closing, remember that worshiping outside your own “normal” and personal preference causes personal transformation and spiritual formation. When we experience worship expressions from other cultures or “generations,” we begin to see how our own worship experiences are part of the larger, global church. It’s in this process that we become more unified as the community of faith.

The Intergenerationality of VBS

VBS at our church is an “us” event. From the youngest kids to our senior saints, there are representatives from all generations on our campus each day to serve, worship, play, and learn about the saving power of Jesus Christ. It really is a family atmosphere. Older and younger working together to share the gospel with our youngest generations!

This year, and like most, I’m involved in worship and music with our students. Some of players from our orchestra and I make sure that our worship rally each day has live music so our students have a worship experience similar-ish to our Sunday mornings. We use the music from the curriculum in music time and our students learn it too. It’s a nice balance so the curriculum music is not all they sing all week.

My favorite part of VBS, however, is getting to intermingle with so many that I rarely get to know well outside of seeing them on Sundays. The way our Sunday mornings are with back to back services, I don’t get to visit with many people. I also get to know students and parents of folks not connected to our church during this week and it’s a joy to make connections and have the opportunity to invite families to be a part of our church. If history repeats itself, we will have the opportunity to touch new families with the gospel. It’s a great way to build community in our community!

I know the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of our students on campus. Many students have made decisions to follow Christ for the first time; others have re-affirmed their decision to walk with the Lord. We rejoice in all these decisions for they represent lives that have been changed by the investment of older generations who desire to give of their own time, talents, and resources to make sure the next generation will lead the church in the future. Soli Deo Gloria!

Saying YES to VBS!will vbs

 

The Importance of Quiet

Psalm 46: 10 (NASB) Cease striving and know that I am God…

Contrary to what some may think, I’m really an introvert. I discovered this shocking fact in my 20s when I took not one, but four different personality tests (I’m an overachiever extraordinaire!) to give insight into what makes me tick. In case you’re interested, I’m an ISTJ. I was worried that being labeled an introvert would make people think that I hate being around people, but that is not the case. After doing a little research (I do love to read since I’m an introvert, right?) I realized that the biggest difference between me and an extrovert is that I get my energy from being alone as opposed to the extrovert who is charged by being around people. Make no mistake, I love people…but I’m often exhausted after being around people for long stretches of time. I CRAVE time alone. My extroverted wife spent our first few years of marriage worried that I didn’t like spending time with her when I needed some space.

Thinking back to when I was a new Christian, I remember I would read my Bible in my closet at home; yes, my literal closet. I went to a conference once that talked about developing a prayer closet and I wanted to grow in my relationship with the Lord, so I got in my literal closet (again, an overachiever and a rule-follower-HA!) and studied the Word. Freeing myself of distractions was just what I needed. I’m a distractable person, frankly. I’m also quite task-oriented, but need quiet to keep focus. Sometimes I would study and pray for long periods of time. I WAITED (tarried) for the Lord to speak to me through the Word and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Those times shut away from the noise of life helped shape me into who I am today. It was also in those times that I heard God speaking to me to enter vocational ministry.

Most anyone who knows me well knows that I love to run. Most weeks I log 35-40 miles. Sometimes more, but not usually less. I haven’t been a runner all of my life, though. I didn’t start running until my early twenties when I realized I was addicted to sugar and headed straight for type two diabetes. I got hooked very quickly and haven’t stopped since. It may seem counterintuitive to some that running recharges me. While physically I may be tired when I finish running, I’m mentally and spiritually full. I do not listen to music when I run, which surprises some because I am a musician, but I want to be quiet and hear what God might be saying to me. While running is not a substitute for personal Bible study, it is a great place to pray, think through problems and frustrations, and gain perspective. Sometimes, though, even this time to be quiet is not enough…

Being in ministry, a father, a husband, and a teacher to name a few, it’s incredibly difficult to find time just to sit and be quiet with the intention of hearing a Word from the Lord even though I read my Bible daily and pray. Going through the motions of these holy habits, I wouldn’t miss what God might be trying to say to me if I’d stop overthinking and allowing distractions to confuse me. The enemy would love nothing more than to distract and create NOISE and confusion in my life and yours. I struggle with the NOISE people, and I don’t mean obvious things not of God. I struggle at times discerning what I should spend my time doing. I’m a severe people-pleaser. I want to do ALL I can to build the Kingdom, but I can only give so much time, effort, and energy to a finite number of things. I am reminded of Psalm 46:10 that reminds me that I must CEASE STRIVING or BE STILL or as another interpretation says LET GO, RELAX and know that I am GOD. I must dedicate time (no matter how long) to be quiet and to listen to the Lord for clear direction to the things that the Lord wants me to pour my time and energy into. It seems counterintuitive, but necessary.

The key to cutting through the noise, my friends, is to dedicate time alone with God that is unhindered. Patiently wait for the Lord to speak. This noise is the enemy’s way of confusing the believer by making clarity impossible. Hear me: OUR GOD IS NOT A GOD OF CONFUSION. If you’re confused in decision-making or what to do or how to do it, don’t change anything unless sin is in the way of a reconciled relationship to God. Pray for forgiveness of sin then pray for clarity, listen for the voice of God to break through, and ask for wisdom.

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