Tuesday, April 25, 2017

*photo of Millie and Bob Downer

One of the wonderful gifts of this church is the incredible legacy of former staff that have come before us; literally, a book full of these leaders. This includes the brilliance and poetry of our modern pilgrim Browning Ware, the pastoral legacy of Don Searles, the timeless wisdom of Carlyle Marney… and the gift of the music and ministry of Bob Downer.
In the last few weeks, over and over again folks have shared stories of the gifts of Bob Downer and his 35 years of ministry among us. I have heard folks state that it was the music ministry of Bob Downer that brought them to the church. I have heard about Bob’s pastoral side, his incredible ability to create a place and feel of worship, and his love for music that made even the non-musical people (if they exist) appreciate a song. I have heard about the 8 choirs and 3 handbell choirs he and Millie directed, the love they shared with this community through friendship and grace, and these words from the Music Minister Emeritus documentation: “They blessed us with a living legacy of joyous hymns, quiet benedictions, meaningful anthems, and forever-changed lives.”

I have heard many stories that make me wish I had known Bob; stories that make me even more grateful for the incredible legacy and ministry he gave us – one that continues still today.
And it further answered a question I often ask: what makes a good minister? I am not sure exactly what it is, but there are a few things I have learned along the way that help begin to answer that question. One is that a good minister creates a ministry that will live far beyond themselves. I was at a conference one time and I heard a fellow minister say, “you know, when I leave the church, all my programs and all my hard work is going to just fall away because it won’t happen without me.” I felt immense pity for that person and their church – what a sad comment, because either that ministry is nothing more than just an ego booster for that individual, or that ministry is not what the community needs (two questions good ministers are always asking).

True ministry lasts far beyond the minister, because we are part of a story that is simply much larger than our own. Our ministry is about Christ who set this example for us … to create something larger for folks to live into for a long time.

Along with Millie, Bob Downer created a ministry like that. His fingerprints are still on our music ministry program. And actually, it seems perfect that his ministry was in music, because he created a song for us that is timeless, that still guides us, and that we walk around humming still to this day.

The chorus of which is “Thanks be to God.”

May his life inspire all of us to create ministries that outlive our leadership, that are something larger for folks to live into for a long time, which will tell the truth of Christ’s love, and that will build the Kingdom of God. May we live, create, and minister like Bob Downer did: like Jesus did.


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