A Match Made in Heaven

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One thing you can always count on at First Methodist is spectacular music. We are blessed each Sunday with beautiful, holy music to inspire us and draw us closer to God. I always look forward to the music each Sunday. You never know if the choir will be singing from opposite sides of the sanctuary, marching in to some upbeat tune, or ringing handbells from the balcony. There are hymns, anthems, praise songs, and you may even hear “Jesus Loves Me” mixed in among these. 

I asked Renee to talk with me about what it was like to lead the chancel choir. She reluctantly agreed, and I know she was secretly hoping I would forget. I already knew that Renee was a modest person who would rather have others in the spotlight. She works hard behind the scenes and is perfectly happy doing that. She gives all the credit to the choir and their incredible talents. I thought this was interesting because when I talked with choir members, they gave her all the credit for bringing out their best performances. I believe that is what makes our choir and their leader so unique. They simply click.

Music was just a part of life growing up. Renee began playing the piano when she was 6, and her parents always had music playing in the house. She knew at an early age that it would represent a significant part of her future. Renee loves the piano and if you ever watch her play, you know she has been given a wonderful gift. That little girl could never have known that her path would lead her to where she is today, but God knew all along where she would be, and I know we are all thankful He put Renee and our chancel choir together. 

I asked about the different specials the choir performs and wondered if she had a favorite. I wasn't surprised to hear that each Sunday service was her answer and that is her focus. The other things they do are for variety and are wonderful, but she is passionate about each Sunday. She wants to give back to her church family and God by making each Sunday special. She likes to showcase the full range of talent this choir has. They bring out the best in each other. They share a desire to do the best they can with their gifts, treat each other like family, pray together and share the joys and sorrows of daily life. I also heard that a lot of birthday cake is involved.  I think they have a good thing going.

By Michelle Holland

The Spirit Knows

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Pastor Jon told us a few weeks ago that gifts are manifested in many ways, and that everyone has a gift to be used in building up the body of Christ. He said the Spirit knows what is needed for a gathered body to do whatever it is that needs to be done. The Spirit must have been working in the fall of 1959 to bring Robert and Bonnie Madden to Beaumont. Robert with his artistic talent and Bonnie with her theater and production skills were just what First Methodist needed to stage some spectacular performances.

In 1970, Don Ford, the Director of Music, asked Bonnie to stage the one-act opera, Menotti's Amahl and the Night Vistors. The request was not unusual because plenty of productions had been done in Rothwell Hall, but this one was to be performed in the sanctuary. Could it be done? The altar was moved into the narthex to make room for sets and stage lights. Robert, Lyle Bohrer, and H.L. Taylor designed and built the sets and even made stage lights from coffee cans. I wondered how the two of them worked together and how Bonnie could communicate to him what she needed in her set designs. She didn't hesitate when she told me he always made it work. I saw a few of his set sketches and they looked like an architect’s rendering. Very impressive!

The orchestra was placed in and around the communion rail and was directed by Don Ford. Fred Simon sang the part of Balthazar, and a young Randy Crim sang the lead. For two nights in December, the sanctuary was filled with standing room only crowds. I wish I could have seen it. I didn’t know this opera and had to do some research. It tells the story of a poor crippled boy, Amahl, who is visited by the Magi on their way to see the Christ child. Amahl has nothing to give as a gift to the Child, so he offers his crutch. He gave what he had, and for this gift, he was miraculously healed and went with the Magi to see the baby. The story touched my heart and to think of it performed in our beautiful sanctuary was powerful. I imagine it was spectacular. A gift of performance from nearly 48 years ago that still inspires and encourages is reason enough to believe the Spirit knows.

Robert and Bonnie enrich the life of our congregation. They use their gifts to provide art and theater, to teach, to serve on committees, and to faithfully contribute their talents in many ways. They indeed are an example of the Spirit knowing what is needed and bringing everything together as only He can.

By Michelle Holland

The Gift of Stories

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Listen in as Michelle sits down with Tom and Mary V. as they share stories of their life at First Methodist in the 1960s, choosing the stained glass windows for the new Spire Church sanctuary, and the beginning of ministry at Some Other Place in Downtown Beaumont. 

One afternoon in April, I had the opportunity to visit with Tom and Mary V. Engelking to hear stories about the Spire church and the people they have known. They arrived at First Methodist in 1959, the same year as John Wesley Hardt. What a spectacular time to become a part of this church. The planning, building, and moving were all on the horizon. The new pastor and his family became close friends of Tom and Mary V. They spoke of inspiring sermons that captured your attention and kept you focused on the message.

If you have spent much time with Mary V, you know she is full of energy and enthusiasm. Considering her 91 years, I can only imagine the energy she had in 1959. She became chairman of the annual turkey dinner, secretary of the building committee, and the children’s coordinator. Tom at 97 is full of wisdom and the details of a well-lived life. He was chairmen of the committee on Education, children’s Sunday school teacher, and you could find him in the church kitchen every Wednesday night. He helped their good friend Freddie Mae Scott prepare and serve meals for all the members who were attending Wednesday night activities. Freddie Mae meant a lot to the Engelkings, and they were sad to learn that she passed away this year on Tom's birthday.

The years spent as members of the Spire church are full of beautiful memories. Memories of people like Hilliard Henson and Grace Lindsey, good friends who have since passed on. I questioned Tom on what the Spire meant to him after all these years. He told me it symbolizes growth and a continuous presence downtown. It provides a place to take God’s love to the world by starting in the heart of Beaumont.

When you talk with the Engelkings, you can feel the love they have for their church family and the pride they take in the Spire church. You can sense the loss when they speak of friends who have passed away. Their faces beam when they talk about their daughter Beth being one of the first children baptized in the Spire church. They speak with pride about the stained-glass windows and the sensational choir. Charlie Morgan playing the keyboard, Fred Simon's incredible voice, and Silverio and Lindsay singing together have been some of their favorite musical moments.

My time with the Engelkings was a delightful glimpse into the past, and their enthusiasm in the present is contagious. The stories handed down to us are gifts. They are overflowing with the impressive history of a beautiful church filled with faithful disciples, and a legacy of serving Jesus in downtown Beaumont.

By Michelle Holland