A Difference … by Harry Robinson

I had my moment standing at the kitchen sink with my hands buried in hot dishwater. Through the window the sun was setting over the hill behind our house. Cattle grazed in the half-light, and my dogs were starting to get active after lounging a whole day in the long grass. For the last three decades I had been on the road three hundred days a year riding tour buses and playing music. How many times I had longed to look out this window?

As I stood there I tried to sum up the measure of what I had done with my life. Traveling all over the continental U.S., Europe, Hawaii and Alaska playing TV, music festivals, concerts and clubs - I had made a lot of money ... and spent a lot of money. But at age 48 I was considered too old for many touring shows, so the calls were coming from second-tier stars instead of the major acts. I was at the end of a career that didn’t seem to make a difference in the world, and I rarely got to see my wonderful wife, Debbie, and our son, Seth.

My relationship to God had always been on and off. Raised in a Christian home, I was one of three brothers (Tom, Dick and Harry - really). Dad was a church leader, usually on the session, and Mom was the organist. Somehow it was assumed that I would be the one to enter church work, but as a child my consuming interest was in movies. I wanted to be Cecil B. DeMille and make huge epics. During high school my partner and I enlisted the aid of everyone we knew, scrounged money from part-time jobs and relatives and made a feature-length movie.

Mom and Dad got nervous and sent me away to a Young Life Camp. I imagine they wanted me to take up the gauntlet of Christian work, but instead I made a movie about the camp, earning the nickname "Cecil B.," for two entire summers.

I also had an interest in music. I was in the band all the way through school, took up the guitar in college and played while in the Navy during the Vietnam era. All during this time I was still plotting how I could get into the movie business. I hadn’t noticed that every time I turned around someone was asking me to play guitar. After Vietnam I ended up in Los Angeles living with a band. From there the career took its own course. In 1993 I found myself looking out that kitchen window wanting my life to mean something. I sat down and recorded an album of classic hymns in my spare bedroom. It was the most fulfilling thing I had ever done.

Then something happened that changed the direction of my life. My son was a student at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN. They were doing a production of Harry Chapin’s musical play, "Cotton Patch Gospel," and the head of the music department asked if I would like to put a band together for the show. One day during rehearsal he asked me where I got my music degree. I said I didn’t have one. He suggested the idea of an artist residency. The deal was for me to help out in the music department in exchange for tuition and expenses. The only music degree Martin offers is in church music. It had never occurred to me that I could be a church music director because I was a guitarist, not an organist. Three and a half years later I graduated summa cum laude.

Two years into my schooling at Martin I got my first position as music director at the United Methodist Church in Ashland City, Tennessee, where we have lived now for 18 years. Then just before graduation I moved over to Bethlehem United Methodist in Franklin.

I am now in my fourth year at Bethlehem. It’s the best job I have ever had. My relationship with the Lord is on track as He leads me in building a music and arts program that serves a thousand people from ages 3-90. I work for Him and He rewards me with a chancel choir, youth choir, children’s choir, hand bell choir, bluegrass band and drama club. He uses every skill I picked up in over thirty years in the business.

It’s like my whole life has been on-the-job training for this moment. And I’m making a difference.

Harry Robinson is Director of Worship Arts at Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee. His e-address is: Unvarnished@mindspring.com.

[Ed. Note: Mr. Robinson is a remarkable guitarist. His solo CD, "Unvarnished Praise" can be obtained as per his ad in this issue.]