An Oregon musician showed up at Keystone United Methodist Church in 2006 and disrupted, in a good way, how ministry is done in small-town Florida.
He gently convinced the entrenched musicians at the church in Odessa, most in their 50s, to make space for younger musicians with a different style.
Today, the church boasts several worship bands, the Keystone Ringers, a Chancel Choir, a string band that plays bluegrass, and a jazz band that not only plays traditional gospel but adds instrumental improvisation and vocals.
|The Keystone Jazz Band|
The musicians that make up those groups also occasionally come together to form a church orchestra.
About 25 percent of the church’s regular attendees are in some way involved in the music ministry, Music Minister David Golden said.
Golden started playing music in the Methodist church at age 14. The key to Keystone’s music program is that he stayed in one place long enough to get to the know the people of the church and the kind of music they love.
“I found the music they were passionate about, then built on it. When I came here, there was a worship band that had been on it for a long time, and they were all my age and older, and I am about to turn 60,” Golden said.
“We also had the traditional choir, and sometimes they would combine the two, and there was always some controversy, some conflict.”
Those who preferred contemporary to traditional dug in and vice versa, Golden said. That presented a challenge, and there was no easy fix. He worked on teaching them that no one kind of music is better than another.
“I had to gently tell the older band we needed to make room for younger musicians,” he said. “And I gave them one Sunday a month. Now they get equal time.”
There was a lot of trial and error during the transformation.
“I thought it might be a six-month experiment,” Golden said. “Now, the younger musicians are all reaching 40.”
Dividing musicians by age doesn’t always work, but it has worked well for Keystone.
“It took the grace of the older musicians to realize the value in that,” Golden said. “Now, they all get along really well.”
|Gene and Ken play with the Keystone String Band.|
In addition to the younger crowd, Keystone also is blessed with a group of musicians in their 70s and 80s who are passionate about bluegrass.
“They had played gospel bluegrass and country-style gospel, but had kind of faded away,” Golden said. “When I got here, I played banjo, so we got it going again.”
That group often plays at the church’s Wednesday night program, and it plays once every other month at the traditional Sunday service.
In 2016, Golden auditioned musicians for a band that would play at the General Conference in Portland, Oregon; and, indeed, it did play.
As for the orchestra, it gets together about once every quarter.
“It’s for anyone who plays an instrument, and we adapt the music as needed,” Golden said. “It’s a fun thing, not a serious orchestra.”
People who had trumpets in their closets for years got them out and dusted them off.
Golden said having such a robust music program in a small town has given the church a reputation for its harmonious capacity.
The bell choir, jazz band, and string band have all played out in the community for Rotary, concerts at other churches and a park in town.
“It gets others interested and has brought some people to the church,” Golden said. “We are not doing music to please the people, however. The musicians are using the music they love to praise God.”
—Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer in Valrico.