Ephesians 5:8- “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of meeting and welcoming to our choir an incredible singer and musician. It’s always a joy to welcome new folks who visit your church and immediately want to get involved in your ministry. Born in the early 70s, Wesley is a Gen Xer who loves choir. Wesley oozes charisma with his dynamic personality. One cannot spend more than a few moments around him without realizing just how hilarious he is—he’s a joy to be around. As you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking, “wow, what a great addition to your choir!” You would be correct…he is a wonderful addition to our choir. But, what I haven’t told you yet is Wesley lost his sight several years ago. He is completely blind; he can barely even see shadows of light.
It’s hard for me to imagine the pain, the disappointment, and the frustration he must feel after living 40 years or so and then to lose your sight (I won’t go into the details of how he lost his sight, but it’s a miracle he’s alive). I met Wesley after a dark period in his life and ministry. Wesley has been a worship leader and praise team member (a really good one) prior to his arrival here. He told me that at his last church he couldn’t serve on a praise team anymore because the church was nervous about the liability of getting him on and off the platform. Wesley came to us wanting to serve through music; he was willing to overcome the odds of his limitations. After hearing his story, I wasn’t going to let his talents go to waste just because he would require a little extra attention. In fact, I made it my mission to integrate him into our ministry.
Thankfully, all those years of music training allowed Wesley to develop an incredible ear. While he (was) extremely proficient at reading music prior to his sight loss, he no longer can follow the score or watch his conductor. But, he does an amazing job anyway. He records every rehearsal and learns everything by rote throughout the week. Sometimes he’s more prepared for rehearsals than those with sight! He is an inspiration to all in our choir. You know what else is so great? Our choir members have embraced him with everything they have. They help him on and off the platform, and love and treat him just like everyone else. Of course, Wesley is such a great guy and so encouraging, it’s hard not to love him. In fact you’ll hear at least one or two jokes related to sight during our rehearsals, just to keep things light. I asked Wesley to remind me of some of those jokes we like to jab at one another such as:
- Hey Wes, I notice you forgot your score tonight, why don’t you just share John’s next to you? You can just look over his shoulder.
- Tenors, mark that coda with a highlighter if you have to; don’t miss that page turn. Wes says to me, “What color should I use to highlight my part?”
- Wes, I’m just going to stomp on the beat ya’ll come in, okay? (any choir member I’ve ever had knows my penchant for stomping)
Joking aside, Wesley has found a way to serve even with his sight limitations. In fact, it was just a couple of weeks ago he and another one of our talented choir members sang the “old” standard, “I’ve Just Seen Jesus.” Not only was it well done, but there is NOTHING like hearing a blind man sing about “seeing” Jesus by proclaiming his faith in the Lord.
If we are serious about valuing all people where they are, then we must be prepared to welcome folks with physical, emotional, or mental limitations as they enter through the doors of our churches. All they desire is to be given a chance to serve like everyone else…to be a part of our ministries, and we MUST treat them with every ounce of grace that we can. Sure, this means I (you) might have to do a little extra work to make sure he can learn his part well. We’ve even met one on one to run vocal parts a few times and they’ve been wonderful times of “worshipful work” with my new brother in Christ. However, I’m not the only one bearing the load. I’m happy to “brag” on my people and say that they have demonstrated God’s grace to Wesley time and time again. We have to be a “whatever it takes” kind of people or we will alienate those who want to participate. If we fail to include all, many of whom already feel defeated and frustrated, they will simply leave because no one is willing to go the extra mile. This concept also applies to all persons from all walks of life, ethnicities, and backgrounds here at our church. We must be willing expand and morph into what God is making us as a church without trying to always prefer the easy road. It is important that we treat everyone with value, loving our neighbor as ourselves if we desire authentic community.
I want to close with a note Wesley sent to me recently about how he has found community here at Ivy Creek and specifically in our music ministry after one of our lunches together (his daughter calls them “blind dates!”). It remind me that what we do is important, even if we have to take risks to make it happen.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the opportunities that you’ve given me to sing and to participate in the community of the choir. It is a part of my life that I missed tremendously after going blind. A church I attended before I was blind allowed me to be a part of their ministry, but after I lost my site they said I was a liability and could not safely get on and off the platform. This truly discouraged me because I connect to God through musical worship and it is my love language to Him. I feel the most alive when we’re singing together in a large group setting or even a small group setting by returning the praise and gifts and talents that He gave me. Thank you, Will; you are a blessing in my life.