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Chuck Hinman: IJMA. A Work Of Art

A Work Of Art Chuck describes the cultural shock of going from the elaborate Christmas Eve service at one of Houston's largest churches to the simple children's program in a rural Oklahoma church.
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By Chuck Hinman

A Work Of Art

The title of this writing suggests something produced by the hands of a skilled artisan with hints of divine inspiration.

Connie and I were transferred to Houston with Phillips Petroleum Company late in my working years. It was 1982.

Getting settled in Houston

Among the things we left behind was our long-time membership at New Harmony Baptist Church, a rural church spelled with a capital R. It is in the Hogshooter area. The membership is far from 'redneck' in nature, but neither is it culturally refined and all that implies. It was just right for us!

In the course of getting established in Houston, we visited and eventually joined Tallowood Baptist Church. It was so much different than New Harmony, you would have wondered why we decided on Tallowood. It fit its moniker -- "a big church with the attributes of a small church." We didn't have any problem with that and spent the next five years in a wonderful relationship.

A Houston mega-church where Chuck's playing is seldom needed

First of all, it was a mega-church in comparison. It had a wealthy membership of professional people. The church was built on a campus with outlying buildings for every conceivable use. The buildings were identical in style. The chapel building was used for smaller gatherings. When we were at Tallowood, the chapel was used by foreign language members so they could worship in their native tongue. I was organist for the Japanese speaking church.

In the main auditorium where there were perhaps 1500 people in attendance, they had a 200 voice choir with some of Houston's finest musicians. The massive organ was superbly played by Lew Zeilers, one of Houston's top church organists. Their pianist Don Looser was a top dog in the Houston Baptist University. Lesser musicians like myself did well if we were ever called upon in some musical way. No problem at all! I was accompanist for a men's gospel quartet, The Delegates, made up of Tallowood members. We performed wherever we were invited. That included two or three times (that's all) at Tallowood during the course of our five year membership.

A special Christmas Eve at Tallowood

One Christmas Eve at Tallowood stands out. Because of the huge crowds who attended something special like this, there were three services. The church auditorium was lavishly decorated with greenery, twinkling lights, acres of red poinsettias, and the works! The smells of Christmas hung over the huge auditorium lighted festively with a myriad of burning candles. The pungent smell of eucalyptus and holly berries gloriously completed the setting. It was truly a visual 'Work of Art'! And your hearing had yet to be treated!

Outside vocal soloists had been engaged to help with this very special evening even though the church was loaded with exceptional musicians. It was almost overkill if you know what I mean. But it was wonderful!

Opulence and artistry abound

People arrived in their luxury automobiles, dressed to the hilt -- the women in their furry-finery, overpowering with expensive colognes and perfumes. You could only imagine the luxury of their homes they had just left in the exclusive Memorial and River Oaks area of Houston. Family groups arrived with members home for the holidays. There was an air of excitement seen only at Christmas, and the good part, the church service celebrating with exceptional music, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ hadn't even begun... ... ...! What opulence and artistry, the epitome of the title of this article -- "A Work of Art"! It was overwhelming and for a moment Connie and I seemed to be out of our league but that didn't keep us from being mesmerized not only by the special occasion but the grandiose way in which it was celebrated. It would soon be midnight and like Cinderella we would be back to reality.

A few Christmas Eves later at New Harmony

Now fast forward a couple of years (1987). We are home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where we belong. It's Sunday evening before Christmas and we are at our country church, New Harmony. About eighty people have gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the New Harmony way with a program presented by the children. Over the years, our church leadership had frowned on the Santa Claus trappings of Christmas in the church auditorium. They might have it in their homes but not in the worship center. They had gathered to worship God and see a program presented by the children, zeroed in on the birth of Christ and presented in a simple and unobtrusive manner.

One of the highlights of the program was when seven-year-old Melissa Terhune stepped forward and played a violin solo, "Away In A Manger." She was cute as a bug in her red velvet Christmasy dress and curly red hair. With just an occasional scratchy sound, her rendition was a true work of art with the appropriate mix of "a skilled artisan with divine inspiration"! My heart was bursting as I considered the approval of the One whose birthday we had gathered to celebrate! Of course, it brought down the house who love their own!

Cultural shock from big to small church

In the ensuing days, still remembering the event, I got the nerve to write Tom Moseley, then director of Tallowood's fabulous music program. He is now music minister at First Baptist in Houston. I described to him the cultural shock of going from one of Houston's most elaborate Christmas programs to our musical star, Melissa Terhune, making her first appearance before a small but appreciative audience. I had no idea whether Tom would be touched or not.

He not only was touched but wrote a warm letter of response saying that he had no doubt Melissa Terhune had our Lord and Savior's rapt attention more than the finest choir and musicians Tallowood put together for the evening. I suspect he was right!

Human skill balanced with divine inspiration

That, my readers is a true 'Work of Art' with the correct balance of human skill and divine inspiration.

One thing I know, I will always remember Melissa's rendition of "Away In A Manger." I haven't a clue what or who I heard at Tallowood's Christmas program twenty years ago!

Written by Chuck Hinman, Emailed 15 December 2008.

This story was posted on 2014-12-14 05:50:50
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