When you are a ukulele…

I was asked to speak at the church I am currently attending as part of their “stewardship minute” series, which is a regularly scheduled time for someone from the congregation to make a short talk about why they attend and why they give to the church. I had been asked before but it was never a good time. But, this time around — the timing worked. This is what I said. (I used a prop – a travel ukulele – which is about 14 inches long and about 6 inches wide)

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This is a travel ukulele. Apparently, you need a travel ukulele because a regular ukulele is just so cumbersome to carry around…

My partner, Karen Anderson, bought this a number of years ago to add to her growing collection of ukuleles as she started teaching ukulele lessons as a side gig in her photography studio. She loved the happy sound it made and sharing that love with others.

We both had grown up going to church. My background is primarily in the Lutheran tradition. However, as you can probably assume, I have not always felt very welcome within most churches. It does a number on you over the years.

That didn’t stop me or Karen from trying from time to time to find a church home. And, we stumbled into the Episcopal church in Knoxville by way of the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, which was a congregation associated with Tyson House quite a few years ago. I was even Senior Warden of the congregation when that church was closed by the bishop at the time. That decision was devastating to me and I took it pretty personally and shut down about church stuff for a while. But, the need for some type of spiritual home keep calling.

At some point, around 2011, we visited Good Sam as we took a tour of churches to see if, perhaps, we could find one that would work for us. After hearing Caroline, Taylor and Cal preach and talking with them and others in the congregation, it seemed like this was a good place for me. Karen had found a Methodist church in East Knoxville that she liked so we did what do after being together for over 20 years – find a compromise. We agreed that we would attend each one on alternating Sundays. At Good Sam, I liked the familiarity of the liturgy and music from my Lutheran childhood. I joined in 2012 and engaged with a number of opportunities, thanks to  Mark Brown, such as the youth mission trip to New York City and the newly formed cooking group.

Then, my world collapsed.

Karen died suddenly on June 16, 2013 after an accidental fall at a friend’s house. It was on a Sunday morning and Cal and Taylor were called to the hospital after the services were over. They led a group of about 20 friends and family who were gathered in that trauma ICU room through the Episcopal liturgy for removing life support. One of my good friends told me later that he was so moved by how much he felt the holy spirit in that room.

After that, even though Karen didn’t join Good Sam when i did, they agreed to hold her funeral here. During the planning meeting with Cal and Freddie, we started talking about music. Freddie was going through a list of her favorite hymns, including Silent Night (which he managed to work into the service in spite of it being in June) and then I threw him a curve ball. I told him that I wanted a ukulele choir to play during the service.

To his credit, his face didn’t betray any sense of “What? What the heck are you talking about?” Someone found a ukulele tab for Just a Closer Walk with Thee and I let people know who were coming for the service to bring ukuleles if they wanted to join the choir.

I don’t remember much about that funeral service but I do remember that there were about 20 ukuleles (along with a couple of guitars and a dobro) playing the hymn. And, at one point I heard a bass line. I realized that Freddie was playing the organ pedals to provide the foundation to the song. And, that made all the difference.

Here I am almost five years later. I have more love with a new Karen in my life, just to keep it confusing.And, I’m still going to Good Sam and I still tithe every year.

Why?

When you are a ukulele, you aren’t always welcome. Sometimes people don’t want you to even be a part of the band. I will struggle with that for probably the rest of my life. However, I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime so I hope I’m wrong about that.

Good Sam says it welcomes us all, no matter your instrumentation.  And, the actions here show that they mean it. Good Sam provides that bass line that all good songs need – even a blues song.

That bass line…that foundation provides much needed support in this community here, throughout Knoxville and the world through all of our varieties of inreach and outreach.

To provide that bass line, it needs support from us. It really is all about that bass.

And that is why i give.