Relay runners will tell you that their race is won or lost in the passing of the baton. Making a smooth transition from one runner to the next with each runner getting a firm grip on the baton is critical. And so it is in passing the baton of our faith from one generation to another - in our families and in the ministries of our church family as well. We have the truth of the gospel to pass on, both in word and in living example, and there are ministry gifts and experience to be grasped firmly by runners coming alongside us and after us in this race.
Almost a year ago now our much-loved organist, Eleanor Greathead, mentioned in passing that she wondered who would be there to take over in playing the organ when it came time for her to pass the baton. “The instrument is challenging to learn,” said Eleanor, “and there are fewer with interest in learning it these days.”
But in God’s great timing, it was just shortly thereafter that Marion Catterlin (who currently plays piano and keyboard for one of our worship teams) expressed an interest in learning to play. And over the last six months these women have been running side by side, with Marion practicing hard to be ready to run the next leg of the race.
Now, there’s no replacing Eleanor for her many, many, years of faithful service, but she feels it is time pass the baton, and Marion is ready. So, our deep thanks to both of these ladies for their hard work and gifted contributions to our times of worship.
About the time that these preparations were being made, I sat down with Eleanor and asked her to reflect on her years of ministry with the organ. What I learned was so interesting that I asked her to jot down a few notes for me, and here are some highlights from what she shared.
Eleanor’s love of music began at just seven years old, playing the piano. By the time she entered high school she was selected to be one of five students to receive private organ lessons from the school’s Music Appreciation teacher. When graduation time rolled around at her South Pasadena San Marino High, Eleanor was asked to play a half hour prelude to the community commencement speakers’ addresses. Quite an honor and quite a challenge.
During Eleanor’s high school years, she also got a taste of stepping in to accompany a local church choir. Her first Sunday there, she discovered a deep division in the congregation when she was told to start playing one song, and the choir broke forth in a completely different number. What a welcome! And then there was the time she went to play for a new Sunday School class of special needs children. With some trepidation as to just what would be appropriate, she went to sit down, slipped off the stool and sat down hard on the floor. The kids all laughed…and then she was one with them!
In the years that followed, there would be other opportunities for accompaniment: a Christian Women’s Club, Bible Study Fellowship, the Orange County Honor Farm, the Army base chapel in Ankara, Turkey, weddings and funerals (her favorite wedding to accompany was her own when she played, and Art sang, “O Perfect Love”).
In the summer of 2001, Eleanor’s husband, Paul, who died in 2006, volunteered Eleanor to play the organ here at Sanctuary. The organ had been closed for at least four months since the departure of the last organist, and Eleanor graciously agreed to temporarily fill the need. That was seventeen years ago, and we have been blessed and encouraged by Eleanor’s gift to us ever since, turning our attention to heaven as we have gathered for worship.
There really is no way to adequately say, “Thank you,” to Eleanor for her years of faithful service. I know her heart has always, and only, been to see that the Lord is honored above all. But we are the beneficiaries of all her mid-week practices, early Sunday morning rehearsals, grand hymns and offertories, wedding marches, funeral consolations, and special holiday services. So, “Thank you Eleanor for your good gift of love to us and to the Lord.” “Thank you for so graciously passing on the baton.” We are indeed greatly blessed!