Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

Reflections on Being Interim Director of Music


Interim Director of Music and Arts
August 2016–January 2018

Over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on my experience as Interim Director of Music and Arts at Pinnacle this past year and a half. From the start, I made it very clear that I was only willing to steward Pinnacle’s music program until a new, permanent Director of Music was found. Nonetheless, it has been an undeniable pleasure to lead the music ministries during this time of transition.

Pinnacle Presbyterian is richly blessed in music ministries. With nine singing and ringing ensembles, there is something for everyone! The four children’s ensembles and three youth groups, under the direction of Brandon Burns, Katherine Talley, and Sonja Branch, cheered our hearts as they sang and rang and drummed for Martin Luther King Sunday, Haiti Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Children’s Appreciation Sunday, Youth Sundays, Children’s Sabbath, Children’s Christmas Pageant, Christmas Caroling at Vi, Christmas Eve, and other regular worship services.

My Pinnacle Pealers’ adult handbell ensemble provided reverberant, ringing melodies for Holy Thursday and Palm Sunday, as well as in regular Sunday worship services and for the annual “Celebration of Christmas” concerts. The workhorse of worship-leading — the adult Chancel Choir — presented sonorous and heart-felt song in weekly Sunday morning worship; for special musical presentations; for Christmas Eve and Easter services; and at weekly Wednesday evening and extra Saturday-morning rehearsals. In Spring 2017, Chancel Choir presented the West Coast premiere of Dr. Timothy Sharp’s “Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass.” At Christmastide, the Chancel Choir shouldered the greatest musical responsibility in presenting Pinnacle’s most visible musical outreach event, the fourteenth (2016) and fifteenth (2017) annual “Celebration of Christmas.”

It is now eighteen months since I first was encouraged to apply for the Interim Position of Music and Arts at Pinnacle. The time has flown by, with my planning, leading, and/or participating in almost one hundred worship services; ten vespers services; two ecumenical Thanksgiving worship services; two glorious “Celebration of Christmas” concerts; and one "toe-tappin,’ foot stompin’" spring major work. The two adult ensembles under my direction performed more than one hundred pieces of music; and I learned and played some ninety pieces on the piano.  Transition can be a rocky road at times – obviously, there was a LOT for me to learn and negotiate during these short months – but joy-filled spirit and love was the constant.

When I was first hired, I wrote a blog about “The Blessedness of Change.” These words from that blog are apropos at this time of closure:

As a musician and professor, resilience and change have been constants in my career work over the past forty years. By necessity of my calling, I have had to embrace change; indeed, the rhythm of my life has been motivated by change. Music constantly unfolds and surprises with its changes of rhythm, melodic patterns, instruments, and harmonies. With each new measure of music, there is new opportunity for change. Throughout the centuries, every musician strove to honor voices of the past while at once forging a new musical identity for his or her own voice.  Music is change. Change is life. Life is change.

Change was then, and – once again – change is now. Thank you for all the support, encouragement, and love you have shown me during my time here at Pinnacle Presbyterian. I trust that you will do the same – and more – for my now dear friend and colleague Mr. David Allen, who will so ably represent Pinnacle in the coming years in his role as permanent Director of Ministries in Music and Arts I pass the baton to him with great gladness and joy, secure in the knowledge that you all will be very well served.

I am genuinely overwhelmed with deep gratitude as I write this, my final blog. I will treasure forever my tenure here. Please know that I have nothing but love in my heart for all of you.

“May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back . . .
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

In deep appreciation,



No Greatness Without Goodness


Last Friday, January 5th Pinnacle hosted a live remote webcast, Calvin College’s January Series* entitled No Greatness without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement. It was such an inspiring story that I wanted to share it with you in this week’s blog!

The story was told firsthand by Randy Lewis, author of the book No Greatness without Goodness. Randy bet his career that he could create an inclusive workplace at one of America’s biggest corporations—a place where people with disabilities could not just succeed but thrive. No Greatness without Goodness is the powerful story of a corporate executive who, after watching the world through the eyes of Austin, his own child with autism, realized that we all have a greater responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone, including those with disabilities. Take a look + listen below (click the highlighted URL links to be inspired).

As the senior vice president of Walgreens, Randy Lewis created thousands of full-time jobs for people with disabilities. While seeking to change people’s lives for the better, the facility chosen for this pilot program became Walgreen’s most efficient and safest location in the country. It turned out that doing “good” was also great for business. Randy’s motto is “What’s the use of having power if you don’t use it to do good?” Take a look:

He talked about what led him to launch an unprecedented disability hiring initiative at Walgreens and how it ended becoming much more than anyone ever imagined in changing how everyone looked at the world. No one had ever built a large-scale production facility with the specific intent to have one-third of its workforce composed of people with disabilities -all performing the same jobs, held to the same performance standards, earning the same pay, working side-by-side. But that’s what happened at their Anderson, SC distribution center. As the word got out about what they were doing, both ABC and NBC sent a team down to see what this was all about. Listen in:

Washington wanted to know about it too. After it was clear that Walgreen’s efforts to employ people with disabilities had exceeded all expectations, Randy was invited to testify before the United States Senate.  What the senators heard was not only how successful the initiative was, they heard about how it changed the company’s overall work culture, that they were sharing what they learned with other companies and that its most profound impact was on those WITHOUT disabilities.

After watching the Senate Testimony, watch the video that Senator Harkin talks about in his opening remarks that “blew him away!”

Today, more than 10% of Walgreens logistics workforce is composed of people with disabilities who perform the same jobs, earn the same pay and are held to the same performance standards as fellow team members. Considered the “gold standard of disability employment” by the National Governors Association, the program has been subsequently replicated in companies both domestically and abroad including Procter & Gamble, UPS, Lowe’s, Meijer, Marks and Spencer.

*For over 30 years, the January Series of Calvin College has been one of the leading lecture/cultural arts series in the country. The series has been a three-time recipient of the Silver Bowl Award as the “Best Campus Lecture Series in the U.S.A.” Presented weekdays at 12:30 pm in the 1000-seat Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium on Calvin’s campus, the series is open without charge to students, faculty and the west Michigan community. Despite typical Michigan winter weather, the auditorium fills up and the audience spills over into closed-circuit television rooms as needed. This is Pinnacle’s second year hosting the live presentations, we join 50+ remote sites across the country.


God’s Grace in Seniors & Snowflakes


In our SAGE lunch group, we are “Senior Adults Gaining Enrichment,” and the talent in our group is extraordinary. To welcome the New Year, I wanted to share a poem by one of our SAGE members. We send these beautiful words with wishes for a faithful 2018.

Snowflakes for Us

by Diane Wenger

The chill arrived up here last week
Up here in the Great Northwest
Our raindrops changed so magically
As snowflakes came to rest
Upon the land, the grasses too
Snow draped on the evergreens
The sky before me was filled with flakes
‘Twas a joy for my eyes to see

I am in wonder

Science shows us through microscope
Each flake is unique on its own
They are big-they are small
They float as they fall
I’m mesmerized standing here alone
Oh my! My heart is leaping inside
To what seems ordinary to many folks
I linger here in wonderment
As the cold reaches in to my toes

I’m enchanted by it all

Seasons come, each one anew
They remind us of ebb and flow
Lives change:  they go from this to that
Like these raindrops turning to snow
Yet every season has its reason
That’s what the sages say
While you and I, we seek we try
To make this a meaningful day

This day counts

We are like the abundant flakes of snow
You and I are each one unique
God made us thus, from one to us
Live life from sublime to oblique
For it is a gift to have a life
Clear your head of all that chatter
Live life in beauty like a flake of snow
Give heart to what truly matters.
I am every so grateful for my life!


My grandma was an expert knitter and loved to crochet. I am a part of a long-line of women who spent their free time making intricate crocheted and knitted doilies, blankets and clothes. When I was about eight it was my turn to learn.  I already knew how to sew and this was my next challenge.  I sat across from my grandma with our knees touching, string in one hand and needle in the other awaiting the instructions that would take me from one stitch to the next.  I was going to make my first doily that would grace my dresser. I had great dreams of being an expert just like my grandma.  Unfortunately, this first lesson as well as the second ended in tears.  My right-handed grandma struggled to teach her left-handed granddaughter ending our lessons and my dreams of being an expert in shambles. 

I was reminded a few weeks ago by a friend an important lesson my grandma taught me as I watched her turn string into works of art, always make sure you have a lifeline. A lifeline is important when the stitching pattern is very difficult and it is easy to lose your way as you make each stitch.  A knitter will put in a lifeline telling themselves this row is correct and if I make a mistake I will just return to the lifeline and start over.  Whenever a person has to rip out row after row of a difficult pattern it often brings on feelings of frustration at the mistake and maybe even some tears. Immediately as the carefully pearled rows become ordinary string again they turn to gratitude because if it wasn’t for the lifeline they would have to start all over instead of ripping out a few rows.

Christmas is like a lifeline.  This is where everything is new once again.  Each year we return on Christmas Eve to mark the beginning of a new year and reflect on the year’s events.  We think about the major events that occurred this past year, we remember the mistakes made and successes celebrated, broken and kept promises, dreams that have been fulfilled and those lost.  This is the place we come to remember who we are and more importantly who God is for us.

At Christmas Eve services we remember the gift of Jesus’ birth.  As we lift and lower our own Christ candles during Silent Night we return to our Savior who is our lifeline. The birth of Jesus Christ who forgives us and loves us unconditionally. The gift of God becoming human, laying his head in an ordinary manger, so that He too would understand the humbling and vulnerable places that we experience. Jesus chose to grow up with all the trials of humanness: the terrible twos, puberty, first jobs, lost jobs, lessons that must be learned, failures, experiences, hopes dashed, challenges faced, and promises broken and kept.  Each moment of Jesus' life was so that He could say, “I understand,” “I have been there,” and “You are not alone.” 

As you reflect on your past year, don’t forget that whatever has happened good, bad and difficult.  Jesus is your lifeline.  Return to the place in the manger where God calls you beloved. Where Jesus tells us He understands. And the Holy Spirit says I will never leave you.  Merry Christmas to you all!



Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. Genesis 3:1

The word Genesis translated from the Hebrew means "beginning."  It is the first book of the Bible and where it all begins.  It doesn’t take a reader very long before they get to the fall of humanity.  Just three chapters into Genesis and we read about Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit and being cast out of the Garden of Eden.  At that moment, there is a lot of blame going around.  First, Adam blames Eve; then Eve blames the serpent, no one wants to own up to their actions. It seems like ever since that moment humans have been making excuses. 

For the last five weeks on Wednesday nights, the youth have been looking at “Satan’s Arrows.”  Most people when they hear the word "Satan" they think of a fallen angel that stands in opposition of God, also known as the devil.  In reality, the Hebrew word for Satan means advisory or anything that stands in the way of knowing or doing God’s will.  This is why when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus,  before his crucifixion, and Peter pulls out his sword to protect him, Jesus says, “get behind me Satan (Mt 16:23).”  Jesus is not calling Peter the devil; he tells him “You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Peter is impeding God’s plan for Jesus. 

In our discussion, we talked about five things that keep us from spending time with God.  The five arrows of Satan were guilt, busyness, distractions, fear, and self-worth. As the Advent season, a time of preparation for Jesus’s birth quickly is coming to an end, I wonder how many of us have been deceived into thinking that Christmas is about something other than the celebration of Christ’s birth.

The world in which we live makes it easy to get distracted. I mean how many “Christmas” parties have we attended?  Were any of them about Christ?  Was Jesus even mentioned?  How many people will not come to church this Christmas because they live in fear that the “Christians” who go to church every week will judge them and make them feel guilty? 

Between my three children, my wife’s work, and my work, I have been to six Christmas parties with two, maybe three more, coming.  Three Christmas plays.  Countless practices getting ready for those plays and performances.  Two holiday classic baseball tourney’s, a Christmas band concert, a Holiday dance.  Having to balance that with Christmas shopping, baking, cooking and let’s not forget the Christmas cards. (We didn’t send cards out this year.  It wasn’t because we forgot or didn’t want to, we couldn’t find our address list.   We spent endless hours looking for something we didn’t even use.  The good news is we found our list, by accident, this past weekend, so there might be cards next year).  With all that we “have to do” during Advent, it is hard to imagine we will have time to celebrate Christ’s birth at all!  I wish it were just me who had this struggle, but I know I am not alone.  We often find ourselves so busy and distracted with "stuff" that we neglect to make room for Christ.

With Christmas just around the corner, it isn’t too late to make room for Jesus in our lives today.  One of the biggest deceptions that we tell ourselves is that we will do it tomorrow, but we all know that tomorrow never comes.  As we finish out 2017 and look towards 2018, let us make room in our hearts and our lives to celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever known. Don’t let guilt or fear keep you from experiencing the love of God this Christmas.  Take some time from your busy schedules and the distractions of your world to truly celebrate Christmas. Don’t be deceived! It isn’t too late to make room in your life for the newborn King.