The Overcomers


I’ve only been at Kingwood United Methodist Church since May 1, 2019. During that time, we’ve had two different floods and, now, what would seem to be a plague of sorts. I’ve joked that I’m looking for the locusts and the frogs to show up next! While not trying to really make light of a very bad situation, I do think it’s good to keep a sense of levity, where appropriate.

One of the early anthems that we did with the KUMC Chancel Choir was the Rene Clausen It is Well with My Soul. The above video of the Wartburg Choir is where I first heard the piece and chose to lead the choir through the selection. It really stirred me. It’s quiet beginning, soaring lines and beautiful organ part helps the piece achieve an important connection — to truly reflect the intent of the text.

In the worship services at KUMC, I think it’s helpful for worshippers to know the history behind the hymns and their intent of usage for the service of the day, while not getting “preachy.” After all that’s the role of the clergy . . . LOL!

The hymn was composed by Horatio Spafford, a lawyer and Presbyterian elder. In 1871, Spafford lost his son to scarlet fever. To channel his grief, he dove into his work but the Great Chicago Fire caused him much financial strife. Within a couple of years, he wanted to take a European trip with his family. Seeking to recover financially, business obligations stopped him from leaving with them. So, he sent them ahead on a ship, the Ville du Havre, knowing he would join them after wrapping up his business requirements.

It would never happen. Tragedy would strike.

While at sea, the ship collided with another ship and sank. Spafford’s wife survived the ordeal but, horribly, his four daughters drowned. Word of the accident reached Spafford. His wife sent a telegram, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

He wept.

Spafford quickly boarded a ship to travel and meet his wife. While en route, the captain of the ship ,upon which Spafford was aboard, came to his cabin and told him that they were passing very near where the accident that had taken the lives of his daughters had occurred. At that moment, as the ship went close to the spot, and on on the remains of his journey, he was inspired to pen these famous words . . .

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

Philip Bliss, an associate of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, composed a tune and named it Ville du Havre, after the ill-fated ship. In a blogpost, David Brenneman writes . . .

“When the Spaffords returned to Chicago they were surrounded by friends and family. One of those friends who came by to help comfort the Spaffords was Phillip Bliss, a vocalist and songwriter. As Bliss listened to Spafford’s poem he was deeply moved. At his home Bliss composed music for the poem, creating a song he called It Is Well with My Soul. Within weeks he was singing the new hymn at Moody’s crusades.”

After the tragedy, the Spaffords hosted prayer meetings in their homes. They would continue to meet, even after losing another daughter to scarlet fever at the age of three. They would eventually call their group “The Overcomers.”

This hymn has been a part of countless services of struggle, strife and tragedy. Several years ago when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing, I remember attending a worship service that was a gathering place for large numbers of the gay community. You can imagine the emotion and the power when, in full voice, the entire congregation sang the first verse at the close of Holy Communion . . .

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I’ve also read of others using the hymn — a Vietnamese congregation in 1981 who had fled after the fall of Saigon; at 9/11; the Queensland Flooding in Australia in  2010 recorded by Hillsong, just to name a few.

I can’t help but reflect on our current circumstances, using this famous hymn as a focus point. Each days tumbles into the next with more uncertainty. We see photos of the loss of life in Italy. We see staggering numbers of sick and dying. Our economic numbers look rather dim and we wonder what more could happen.

Trust is hard when our experiences aren’t of strife. I can say I’ve lived a good and safe life, not wanting for much. Most of us weren’t alive to remember dire circumstances similar to that of the 1930s when things were scarce and living was hard. We are told, too, that things will probably get worse before they get better. What do we do? This is all new territory for us.

I heard a great quote from Chuck Swindoll, “God is not somewhat sovereign.” We trust in our God, who hears our cries and comforts us. It’s hard to trust in challenging times. But, trust we do. Let us remember the life of Horatio Spafford and how he persevered . . . let us be “overcomers” . . . all the while knowing  and singing that . . .

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Wikipedia contributed to this blog.

Virtual Worship: Shepherd

In this time when we cannot gather as a traditional worshipping community next to one another, I invite you to take a few minutes of personal worship time in front of your screen. Use the parts that contribute to your connection with God and move to the next section, skipping those things that do not. I also invite your feedback.

We Gather

PRELUDE: During the candle, light a candle as the music plays.


Pray: We gather together in the presence of our Shepherd God,
who calls us each by name,
who restores our souls,
who leads us in the way of righteousness,
and whose goodness and love never stops pursuing us.
This is the God we have come to worship!

(based on Psalm 23 and John 10)

We Praise

OPENING HYMN: Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us


SPEAK: I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.


We Listen

PSALM OF PRAISE: The Lord is My Shepherd (Goodall)

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON: Ezekiel 34:11-16 (NIV)

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

The word of God for you and me, the people of God. (Thanks be to God.)

We Pray


(For a link to the source, click HERE.)

We Offer

OFFERING PRAYER: Good Shepherd, you generously give us all that we need. You guide us to safe places where you feed and heal us, giving rest and renewal. Thank you for taking care of us and restoring our spirits. In gratitude for your abundant blessings, we respond by sharing these tithes and offerings for the work of your church. May our ministries bring the new life that you intend for all people. We ask this in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen. (Psalm 23)

(For a link to the source, click HERE.)

(If you are looking to donate, you are invited to take a moment and give online to Kingwood United Methodist Church by clicking HERE.)

OFFERTORY SOLO: Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep (K. Lee Scott)

We Hear the Word Proclaimed



Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

SERMON: Dr. Burt Palmer

We Depart


Such a Time As This . . .


I’ve spent many years in ministry working through many unique happenings. Some were a part of my personal life while others were either natural disasters or developments within the local church (my professional life). It goes without saying that corona virus is unprecedented. I’ve spent time talking with staff members, conferring with colleagues and friends, and studying anything can could give me an idea how to manage ministry in this time of quarantine and social separation.

See , that’s the issue right there . . . social separation. In all of the past occurrences, we’ve sat in the same rooms, prayed with one another, embraced, went to homes, broke bread at the same table and solved whatever was before us. We brought our ensembles together to worship, sing, pray and praise. It’s what we do!

With the CDC recommendations that we must, for safety, limit our gatherings to fewer and fewer people, suddenly things have changed. It’s clear that the old ways of standing shoulder to shoulder holding hands won’t work. In fact, it’s highly discouraged. Not gathering together is hard.

Such a time as this . . .

I’m not sure where we’re headed. I pray that we are able to limit the sickness and death caused by the corona virus. As artists and creatives who depend on the gathering of people to artfully worship God, what can we be sure of?

God is doing a new thing. No, the disease is not the new thing. Don’t even go there. Rather, I think we are being brought together to think and act in new ways. Perhaps, we are even healing some of the old wounds inflicted by our political leanings. If you look closely . . . very closely . . . one can see the beginnings of a thaw in relationships. How can we as artists of faith contribute and not hinder?

Is that the new thing? Perhaps. Let’s see

“See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”  (Isaiah 43:19 NIV)

Such a time as this . . .


Dear KUMC Friends,

If you were at rehearsal Wednesday evening, you’ve certainly ascertained that I wasn’t there. I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas at the Southwest Division of the American Choral Director’s Regional Convention. I saw a post online that one high school student called, “ChoralCon,” which I thought was great. For those who don’t know, it’s a play on ComicCon, a huge comic convention where folks often come dressed as their favorite comic book hero. This student told their director that they should “go as Eric Whitacre,” the famous composer/conductor. That’s most-certainly a choir-nerd joke if I’ve ever heard one!

Why attend such a convention? It’s somewhat about friendships. I’ll be able to connect up with some friends that I haven’t seen for a while as well as meet new ones. In fact, on my drive up to Little Rock, it happened that there was a choral concert at my undergraduate alma mater, Henderson State University. I was able to visit with the new director and then spend some time yesterday hearing about the wonderful music at HSU. Even more interesting was that I met the son of a former classmate. He was singing in the concert and she wasn’t able to attend due to work. I stood in for her.


Next, it’s about immersion. A convention such as this is a time for listening to wonderful ensembles, visiting classes to learn new techniques for choirs, and to find out about music others are programming with their ensembles. I also get to be a singer — in this case with Director Emeritus for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Dr. Craig Jessop. I think it’s important for us director folks to step back on occasion and become singer folks — to remember what it’s like to be on the other side of the podium to improve the things that we do with you.

Maybe most importantly, it’s about rest and some self-care. We’ve done a lot of hard work at KUMC in a months since I arrived. And, we have more to do. In the short time at SWACDA, I’ve taken a bit of extra sleep and spent some time in personal reflection. Hard to believe that I have to drive 7+ hours to do that but it’s good to put a bit of space between me and Houston proper. Part of the reason that I’m able to do this is that I serve a church, work with a staff, and know an SPR team that sees the importance of health and recovery for those staff that serve in the church.

Finally, as I sit in my hotel room, I reflect on Exodus 18:17-27. Jethro comes to Moses and tells him that he should invest in capable people to assist him so that he doesn’t continue to exhaust himself. I feel that we’ve done that. Our church has invested in a capable and wonderful team team of musicians, enabling me to be here.  Thank you Barbara, Meredith, Stuart, Gary and Sheila for making ministry happen in my absence. Blessings to my wife as she continues on her school and work path.

I will return to the office on Monday, hopefully more rested and ready for more exciting things happening at KUMC.


Bitner’s Four Best Practices

Music conductor hands

Walter Bitner is a lifelong music educator who works as Director of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. He write a blogpost called Off The Podium. I’ve been doing some personal study and review as I prepare for the upcoming worship season at KUMC. I ran across an blogpost he wrote about four practices that would help his students be intrinsically motivated as opposed to extrinsically motived. I thought that his writing was an excellent mirror in which to reflect the teachings of Jesus. And, considering how we tend to treat one another these days anyway, they have a lot of application in our daily lives.

It is important to say that I haven’t experienced any issues or problems here . . . but it is always good to keep such matters as how we treat others before everyone . . . love God, love neighbor.

Take a minute and read. NOTE: Where there are brackets, I’ve inserted words that apply to choir ensembles.

Four Practices

These are behavioral guidelines that help all of us in our interactions with others. This includes [directors] and [choristers] alike. [Choir members] are expected to strive to practice these in their interactions with the [director] and with each other.

Mutual Respect

I will treat others with respect at all times and can expect to be treated with respect by others, at all times. ‘Mutual Respect’ is sometimes described as the ‘Ethic of Reciprocity’ or ‘Golden Rule’.

Attentive Listening

When another is speaking, I listen. Listening means: not talking, not interrupting, not ignoring, and looking at as well as listening to the other. We listen with our whole selves, not just our ears.


Kindness is how we treat ourselves, others, and our environment, every day, and goes even beyond Mutual Respect. The practical rule of application for this practice is “Appreciations and No Put-downs”. Appreciations are what we do; put-downs are what we do not do. Appreciations are things we say to or do for others that make them feel good; put-downs are things that, if said to or done to others, would not. Actions or words that are unkind are unacceptable. An interesting observation about the concept of kindness is that the idea relates etymologically to that recognition that others and I are alike or “of the same kind”.

Best Effort

In all activities and at each moment I will do my best. This applies to my work in [choir,] my preparation for [choir] outside of [rehearsal,] and my interactions with others. By doing my best at all times I can live without regret and feel that my contribution to the [ensemble] is brought forth from the parts of myself that strive for the highest ideals.

To read all of Bitner’s blogpost, click HERE.

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