This is the story of Billy. I refer
to it to remember that "seed moment" when it was that
I first knew what the definition of my role as an accompanist-minister
was to be.
I was the accompanist in the 70's for
a winter youth event at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center
in North Carolina. I had been asked also to help out with a class
on using music creatively. One of the activities of the class
was for those there to form themselves into groups of 6 or so
and to write--as a group--a song dealing with a pre-assigned
theme. As the group in which I would take part began to get to
know each other and to share ideas, soon it was obvious--and
I don't mean that in a negative way---that a group member named
Billy was mentally underdeveloped. But he was a precious soul
with an enthusiastic spirit and shared his own thoughts and ideas,
including some ideas for a song. Frankly, it was hard to resist
his enthusiasm for his song, and when all was said and done,
we went mostly with ideas first expressed through his song. As
he shared his song with the rest of the group a little later,
I improvised an accompaniment for it.
In an unrelated event, there also was
to be a talent show at this conference, and--sure enough--Billy
tried out. And though he couldn't sing very well, he was accepted.
Can you figure out the rest? Yep, he chose to sing his song.
He also asked if I would play for him in the talent show, which
I was glad to do.
On the night for the talent show I was
backstage biding my time when a rather frantic woman came back
and asked me if I knew someone in charge. I said that I sort
of fit that bill-- how could I help her? She said, "Well,
it's about Billy. I think you need to know that he is spastic,
and sometimes--without warning--he starts sputtering and hitting
his forehead with his fist."
(Oh brother, I thought. Wouldn't that
I thanked the lady, and she left, but
there really wasn't much that could be done. I did pass this
on to one of the other leaders, but we decided it was best just
to let him go on and sing.
The show commenced and went well. Eventually
it was Billy's turn. (Now I'm not going to try and tell you that
I didn't wonder just what we might be getting ready to witness.
But, the lights came down and I launched into my introduction.)
A spotlight was trained on Billy, and he began to sing. With
a broad smile and erect posture, head held high, he sang his
song with all his heart. His heart was clearly wrapped around
It has been my blessing and my privilege
in my life to play for many wonderful soloists and to be the
accompanist for some big events. But right then and there, that
night in North Carolina, as Billy wrapped up his song, the Lord
impressed upon me as clearly as anything I've ever experienced
since then this word: "Richard, THIS is how you are to define
your ministry. Not by the great soloists you may get to accompany,
or the events for which you will play, but by Billy, and by all
the Billy's to come. He is the reason I gave you the gift of
Billy finished and the room erupted
into thunderous, standing applause. He hadn't sputtered; he only
had--in his simple, cheerful way--reminded all of us that the
Christian life is not to be defined by exotic rituals of worship,
by excessive posturing over theological positions or by ever-upward
spirals of pageantry (worthy as pageantry otherwise is), or even
by the sonorous tones of well-trained vocalists, but by our own
versions of Billy's broad grin of joy and plain offering of song
to the Lord.
And for me as an accompanist, if ever
I start to think too highly of myself or my time, or if ever
I lose my perspective on Whose talent this really is, well....I
just remember a magical evening in North Carolina, a broad-grinned
fellow named Billy and the Lord making sure I knew just WHAT