The Joy of Singing in the Choir

Bering Memorial United Methodist Church Choir from Houston sings during morning worship at the denomination's 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. Houston will be the host city for the 2008 General Conference. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo number GC04247, 5/7/04
Bering Memorial United Methodist Church Choir from Houston sings during morning worship at the denomination’s 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Choir singing is not as popular as it once was except perhaps in black churches.    But my wife and I have always tried to bring people together to sing as a choir for special holidays and events.   JoAnne arranges for and directs the choir while I sing tenor or in later years, bass.

I have always enjoyed singing in choir.   I have been reflecting upon why.

1.  I simply enjoy harmony.   Whether created by multiple vocal parts or multiple instruments in an ensemble,  harmony is a pleasure to hear and even more pleasurable to be part of making.  If you have the ability to sing harmony, it is very fulfilling to do so.

2. Church choir singing gives the added blessing of filling one’s mind with inspirational songs.   I often find myself singing the choir song we practiced in my mind on other days of the week.  There aren’t very many time investments that help put a song in your heart like choir singing does.

3.  There is a great deal of camaraderie in a choir.  Like any other task-oriented small group, it provides a place to belong, some wholesome banter, a growing relationship with fellow group members, and a sense of purpose and identity.   In fact, in a small choir, one feels quite close to your section singing partners as you strive together season after season to sing your part.

4.  For a church choir, there is the joy of presenting the number we have practiced during church service.   Sure, we may be a bit nervous about doing well, but we are most interested that those who hear are inspired by the message we are trying to bring in music.   When we receive feedback that our work has inspired and encouraged others, we are blessed by that.

5.  Singing in choir uses a gift I have.  By contrast, right now I am not using the gift of trombone playing that I have and I feel bad about that.   My ability will slowly deteriorate.  But on the other hand, when I sing in choir, I use my singing ability, I keep up that skill, so that I am ready for new opportunities to use it.  As a Christian, I believe I am accountable for using my gifts for the benefit of others.

6.  Singing in choir expands my knowledge of Christian music.  Many of the songs we learn are fresh and vibrant expressions of our faith that I have not heard before learning them in choir.

7.  Being a part of the choir has been a starting point for invitations to sing in numerous other types of groups.  Men’s quartets are a riot.  I have sung in a massed choir where choirs from several churches joined together, a great experience.   I was asked to sing the solo part for “He’s Alive” on Easter Sunday while the choir provided back-up, an experience I will never forget.   One year our choir was videoed and put their Christmas cantata on television. I have sung for live nativities and on “living Christmas trees.”  All these experiences and more came to me because I sing in choir.

Increasing organization a little at a time


I hope I can learn to get organized better
My goal is to get better organized!

I have been concerned lately that my desk and my shop seem to be getting more cluttered.  I’m not one of those naturally neat people, yet I like things organized.   Busyness, accumulating stuff, and time pressure seem to conspire to increase the disorder.   I am busy enough that I very seldom find time to just stop and organize my space.  So I have adopted a new strategy.   I am seeking to increase organization on the fly just a little at a time.

When I see a book on the desk that I am no longer using, I pick it up and put it away rather than looking past it to find the one thing I was searching for, as I used to do.   If, while I take a phone call, I see a scrap of paper that has lost its usefulness, I toss it rather than ignore it.  I’m hoping in this way to make progress on decluttering my desk.

In the same way, when I am looking for something in the shop, rather just push something around on the loaded bench, I try to put it away while I have my hands on it.    Yesterday, while searching my little storage bins for a particular type of nail, I noticed several possibilities for consolidations that would open more spots to use.  So I consolidated a few drawers while I looked.   I’m hoping, before too long, I will have a cleaner working space in the shop too.

I guess I am onto something as I was reading advice from a specialty blogger who recommended 7 ways to get organized for those who have no time to do so.    Number two in her list was to “Make progress in small slices of time.”   In fact she suggested setting aside very short blocks of time, like 10 or 15 minutes and just doing what you can do to make progress in that time, deliberately resisting the idea that you need to do the whole job.

I just put one notebook back on the shelf where it goes; a notepad into the drawer, and a scrap in the circular file.   There goes a book and a file folder.  Yes, progress!

Using the berries God provides

When we moved here 2 years ago, I soon noticed a group of elderberry bushes in bloom just over a stone wall.   It was being attacked by marauding vines and overshadowed by maple saplings.   But I was determined to pick some elderberries.   I remembered picking them as a young man and eating elderberry pie that my mother made.

But I soon discovered that elderberry season is short and there are competitors.  The first year when I went to find berries there were none.  I had been away on vacation on the key week and either the birds or the bears had finished them off.    Same story the second year.    So I made a more deliberate attempt to persecute the wild grape vines and clear out some overhanging maple.

This year, I found berries, lots of berries.  Our vacation was earlier in the summer or I would not have because the catbirds which are very abundant here were upset when I started picking the crop they had already started to claim.   Never fear, there will be plenty left for them.  I volunteered to pick the berries off the stems and JoAnne made me a pie.   Pictures of the process are below.   What a pleasure to finally harvest what God had provided.




Adirondack Vacation 2015

We canoed on Lake Eaton and walked on the Wild Walk at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake
We canoed on Lake Eaton and walked on the Wild Walk at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake

I like sitting by the campfire late at night.   JoAnne likes to read, sometimes even sitting in the car to get away from the bugs or the rain.   Both of us love to canoe around the lake. I nearly finished one book this year.  JoAnne pulls out her recorder and plays folk songs, gospel choruses and patriotic tunes by ear at the campfire.  I roast marshmallows for s’mores.

For us camping is an Rx of sorts.   Being a pastor is a very public vocation.  So as part of our vacation time JoAnne and I try to get apart in the Adirondack Mountains.  Getting alone as a couple like this provides a good antidote to the high level of people time that is normal for pastoral life.   It gives time to process, time for extended devotions, and time to read.    We always find it a bonding experience too.   Whether it’s canoeing as a tandem, setting up camp together, enjoying a meal out at our favorite Italian restaurant in the Village of Tupper Lake, eating ice cream at Hoss’s, or holding hands watching the stars, we find ourselves drawn closer together in the Adirondacks.

This year we camped again at Lake Eaton State Park just Northwest of Long Lake, NY .  Even though we had multiple rainstorms, we still had a great time.   I had just finished sealing the tent fly again when the first downpour came.    Amazingly, it didn’t rain during campfire times at all and I was able to gather wood at the right stage of dryness so that it would burn in spite of the dampness.   But it did rain at suppertime twice.  Trying to cook in a rainstorm is the pits so we ate out for supper both evenings; chili dogs and ice-cream at a corner stand one night and Italian at Little Italy the next .

Probably the highlight of the vacation was the trip to the Wide Center in Tupper Lake.  We highly recommend it .   They have a new section called the Wild Walk that has been a huge success.   Thirty-five thousand people have visited the center in the twenty days since the Wild Walk opened.   We took the walk and highly recommend it.  The people who conceived this place have great imagination and make it so much fun for children.   This year the theater inside featured an award winning film about climate change.

Finding Joy As You Go

Yellow beach daisy and hardy rugged green foliage contrasts nicely with the white sand
Beach Walk Serendipity

Written June 1, 2015

Looking for unexpected beauty

As you know, I like to walk.  When I walk, I look for beauty and joy.  Today, on vacation, I walked out toward the beach, there was a wild yellow daisy flower in bloom in the sand dunes.  It was beautiful!   I learned by online research that its name is beach dune daisy (Helianthus debilis).  Finding beauty in unexpected places is a habit I try to cultivate.  When such a serendipity happens, it always makes me philosophical too because I think the experience confirms one of my maxims for life.

“Always be looking for and appreciate unexpected sparks of joy!”

One’s approach to a walk is a clue to how you live

I’ve observed in this regard that one can learn much about a person’s approach to life from the way they approach a trail walk.

  • I meet some people who are always walking with friends. That tells me that they are people-persons who are energized as much by the conversation as by the walk.   I bet they appreciate connectedness in other areas of life too.
  • Other walkers and runners are always alone. There might be many reasons but at the very least they don’t mind being alone.   More probably, like me, they relish it as a time for thinking or just drinking in from nature or perhaps praying, as I sometimes do.   These kind of people find joy in times of quiet.
  • Some people out on the trails are out more to “get the job done,” the task of getting in their exercise, that is. They usually have earbuds and don’t want to even give you the time of day lest you delay them.  I imagine they are very task oriented people in other phases of life as well.  I always pity them in a way as they miss so much by seldom stopping to look or listen.   I’ve observed that it is hard for very task-oriented people to find a rhythm in life that includes time for contemplation.   But they might reply to me that they enjoy the physical high that comes from aerobic exercise.

Have you noticed that people view the conditions for walking differently too.

  • I comment to some about the day and they will always be enthusiastic about what a great day it is to walk, even on winter days. These have learned to enjoy the moment.
  • Other people find something wrong on the best of days; they may note the bugs or the heat or the cold or the rough trail or too many bicyclers or doggy dodo or whatever. Though, frankly, those kind are usually not consistent walkers.

There’s a difference in what is appreciated on the walk too.

  • Some are always observing whatever nature has to offer that day.
  • Others are not observant of nature at all.
  • Some may be only looking for deer and so most days they are disappointed as one only very occasionally sees one while on the trail.

Appreciate the joys the moment brings

It’s the same in life.  Some are constantly discovering new blessings in different areas of their lives.    Other people seem only to be able to focus on troubles; the bugs and poison ivy patches of life seem to be everywhere for them.    Still others are looking only for one or two kinds of rewards in life so they are frequently disappointed as usually the kinds of things they look for are infrequent occurrences.

Michael Cannon Loehrer put it this way, “If people only allow their hearts to enjoy what delights them, they will soon become bored most of the time.  If we train our hearts to find joy in drudgery, we will rest content with whatever comes our way and our lives will remain on an even keel.  Complainers bounce between ever increasing extremes of delight and despair” (From the book “Porch Talk with Gramps on Parenting: A Framework for a Functional Family”).

For example, I love to observe birds.  And thankfully spring days like we have been having in May are the peak of the season for that.    But not every day or every walk is ideal for bird watching.  For example, one day, I forgot the binoculars.  Don’t ask me how, but it happened.   So I watched for what I could see with the naked eye.  I peeked over the bridge over Salmon Creek and thought I saw movement.  So I moved to the other side and had the privilege of watching a young mink forage along the edge of the stream for five or ten minutes, a once in a lifetime event.  If I had remembered the binoculars I probably would not have looked in the streambed.  I chose to enjoy what was available and was rewarded.

Another day it was windy and my walk happened midday, neither of which is best for birding.   But the sun was out and so were the reptiles.  That day a tree frog hopped across my path and I saw a black snake sunning himself on the edge of the road.   I took pictures of both.  I chose to watch what was moving and enjoyed the walk more for it.  Choosing to look for the joys a moment offers is a great habit to cultivate.  As I say:

“Always be looking for and appreciate unexpected sparks of joy!”

I’m posting a few pictures of things I’ve seen on walks, especially flowers found in unlikely places or trees growing in unusual forms.   I call this gallery “Serendipities.”

Spring walks are refreshing in many ways.  

Carpenter Falls collage

I love a good walk.  It gets the heart pumping and fills the lungs with fresh air.  It eases the tensions of to-do lists and day-to-day circumstances.  Sometimes I pray aloud on my walks too.    Here in Northern CT, we are blessed to live near the Granby Land Trust area as well as a rail trail.   So I have places to walk.   I walk for exercise first, but I love the fresh air and I love watching nature, especially birds, plants, rocks, animals and flowers and trees.

Today I walked farther than usual, hiking to Carpenter Falls, a beautiful hidden falls near the top of Broad Hill.   Because of the rain last night the creek there was running a little more than usual too.   One has to hike down into the small gorge to see it.  The collage and the gallery with this post are from that spot today.

This spring the birds have seemed more abundant than usual.  Probably I have just been walking at better times.     I keep a journal of my bird walks, jotting down the species seen on each walk when I get home.   In May I have seen about 36 species of birds on my walks, and I seldom stop just to bird watch for very long.  I mostly just glass what moves.

I also had the unusual privilege of observing a small mink hunting up the shore line of our local creek just as I looked down from the Broad Hill Road Bridge.   He darted in and out of holes in the rocks both above and below the water searching for prey.  Once he swam across a section to a small group of rocks he wanted to check out.

2015 Train Fair visit

Sometime during the later years of my service at Kirkville I became an annual visitor at the train show on the NYS Fair Grounds. When I arrived in CT, I was delighted to discover that there was a huge train show at the Big E grounds. Well, technically, the show is in Massachusetts as the Big E is a couple miles north of the state line, but it hardly takes longer to drive there than it did to the fairgrounds when I lived outside Syracuse. I was also very impressed that this train show is at least twice the size of the Syracuse one, occupying four large buildings on the Big E grounds.

This year I went on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 25, as Saturday it snowed most of the day.   The number of train displays and vendors is overwhelming. All gauges are well represented.   I walked for hours just to pass by the various displays. I wasn’t looking for much in particular this year. I just wanted to enjoy the show. But I did make a few discoveries.

I enjoy the dioramas. Usually they are small showcases of the very best modeling skills. Usually they are in HO gauge but they don’t have to be. Soon after I walked in, I saw the one that I photographed. Snow scene ones are relatively rare. This one used multi-levels creatively and it featured the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad.   That was a key North-South railroad in the area just east of Syracuse back in the heyday of railroads. I took pictures as the train passed even though I only had my phone camera.

I found a couple passenger car trucks for a rail car that I am working on. My brother, Phil is a train collector and a recent large purchase of his included incidentally a couple unpainted passenger car shells that had been altered to 2 rail. He donated them to me and I’m hoping to completely redo one of them inside and out for my 3-rail Tuscan Red Pennsylvania passenger train.

When I was a pastor in my first parish, one of the men was a painter at American LaFrance fire truck company in Elmira.   I’ve been wanting a 1920’s era fire truck for my Christmas display. I found an American LaFrance model. The model itself will be rare as it was approved slightly before the company filed for bankruptcy and no more were made after the first batch. As you can see by comparing the picture of the box with the model, I have some work to do on it to add the accessories.

I also found two more early 20th century vehicles for my display. The Lipton Tea truck is a 1927 Talcott. The other is a Ford but according to the vendor, it also may become a rare item as it is a toy fair model.   But they will both look good on my old time Christmas display, don’t you think?



Christmas Trains for 2014

How it started

One of my hobbies is model trains, specifically, O-gauge trains running around my Christmas tree. Yes we had a Lionel train which we three Jones brothers shared when I was a boy. But what really started me back in this hobby was the gift of a Lionel train much like the one we had which I received from Bill Quick while I was serving as Pastor at Kirkville Community Wesleyan Church.   I promptly ran it around the tree the next Christmas and I’ve been running trains every Christmas since on increasingly more complex set-ups.

The first evolution

One big evolution happened when I moved the trainsets upstairs to the remodeled living room at Kirkville.   I was already running two trains. I decided to build a second layer and started collecting ceramic buildings, little figures and antique car models. I had two long bridges too. Then I started inviting children from church over to see the trains.   I let them run them too.   Of course, they would wreck them occasionally, but I have only had to make major repairs on two cars in all the many years that I have been doing this.

Children in CT love it too

When I moved to Connecticut, God blessed us with a large parsonage living room and my set got even bigger.  In the gallery you can see the first two steps in building the multilayer setup. I found my first Dept. 56 buildings (the Cadillac of ceramic Christmas buildings) on a yard sale in our own neighborhood.  Again, I invited children from church to come and run the trains. They have so much fun and it is a joy to work with them.  This set has only one bridge but it has more room for vignettes.   In the gallery are pictures of Shannon and Sam playing with the trains. The Mandirola boys, Schantz family and the Griffin’s also stopped by to check it out but I didn’t have my camera going.

Sam went for hands on

My grandson, Sam, was much more interested in the train set this year too. But he had his own way of investigating it.   He wanted to get right in it and touch things. I learned from the preschool teachers that this is a preschooler’s tactile way of learning so I tried to facilitate it as much as possible. It was great fun.

New this year

This year I purchased my first engine specifically decorated for Christmas, a Lionel Santa Flyer. I also added a city block of stores that I made from Ameri-town parts. I started it years ago but this year a change in configuration of the upper track made room for it for the first time. In addition, I purchased new track for the inner lower loop.   Last year that loop was hardly operable. This year is was a star. The fastest engine did not derail on it even though it was the tighter loop. It was Lionel Fast Track. If it holds up to the wear and tear of being assembled and disassembled for a couple years I will be a fan for sure. Also new this year, and something I have been watching for, was a ceramic building train station.  At last I have a train station for the upper level too.

Sam Visits for Christmas

My Grandson Sam is a hands-on guy. He was not very interested in running the trains, though he did that briefly once or twice. He liked the whistle on the train a little better, which is the main reason he might run a train at all. But the main thing he wanted to do this year was pick things up and look at them.   So I tried hard to remember the story about the father whose wife kept complaining that he and the boys were destroying the lawn with their sports. The father had replied, “Right now we’re raising boys, not lawn.” So I let Sammie right into the middle of the trainset so he could touch some things. Of course, I had to supervise so he didn’t try to pick up things that were glued down or wired in.   But he found plenty of things to touch.

His favorite spot was the left side access alley. I can barely fit in there as it is made just as a place to access electrical switches, position village items and retrieve derailed cars.   But Sam found it a great corner, just a boy’s size with lots to touch. He loved the tunnel which he could reach from there.  He took one car from the train and pushed it back into the dark.   There was a little grade and it would roll back out.   He liked the imitation pine trees too.   It was pure joy having him visit, a highlight of the season.

A New Granddaughter!

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Someone is way overdue for a Grandpa post.   I am so much enjoying being a grandparent. And on November 17, 2014, our second grandchild was born, a little girl, Annabelle Jocelyn Stater, 6 lbs. 11 oz. One of the special moments over Christmas was being left in the Stater dining room holding Annabelle. I rocked her in my arm, looked at the tree and Sammie’s new oversize Melissa and Doug creation while listening to Christmas music playing from the iPhone on the table.

But back to the story. We were awakened in the wee hours on Nov. 17 by a call from Keely and Mark that they were going to the hospital.   We left quickly. But Annabelle did not wait. She barely waited for the doctor to arrive. Mark accidentally dialed JoAnne as we were walking out of the hospital parking garage. JoAnne answered and heard the baby’s first cries. Keely and Annabelle were released from the hospital the next day.

JoAnne and I will also remember it for the very busy week that it was.   I officiated at one funeral later that same day and met with two different families about funerals that I had yet to do. Besides that I ended up making at least three trips to the hospital in the first two days to visit and or pick up JoAnne. In addition, our choir was gearing up that week for a special presentation on the Sunday before Thanksgiving the next Sunday.

But we certainly had some very special blessing for which to give thanks the following week on Thanksgiving.   The attached pictures are all from Annabelle’s first days.