“The Lord used this in calling me to ministry back in 2000,” said Gagel, who grew up at Parkland Baptist Church in Louisville. “We thought this year being the 25th (anniversary) it would be a good time to pull off a reunion.”
A youth music consultant for the KBC while studying at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Gagel now is coordinating a committee organizing an alumni reunion June 21-23 in Bowling Green.
More than 700 former members are encouraged to attend the event, which will conclude with alumni joining this year’s youth choir and orchestra for the final concert of the tour, June 23 at 3 p.m., CDT, at First Baptist Church of Bowling Green.
For a complete list of tour stops for this year’s choir and orchestra visit www.kybaptist.org/asyco. All performances are free.
Originally assembled in 1989 by the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the program expanded in 1995 by adding an orchestra.
Combined in 2008, the choir and orchestra meet for several days of rehearsals before touring churches, nursing homes and other venues the rest of the week.
“We are so grateful that Kentucky Baptists continue to support the all-state choirs each year,” said Jason Stewart, KBC’s worship/music consultant. “Churches promote auditions. Parents send their kids and come along as chaperones. Music ministers, choir leaders and other musicians serve as our directors and accompanists.”
The fact that many alumni are music ministers or active in music programs shows that the choir and orchestra have served their purpose, said retired KBC worship and music director Jim Cordell.
“We talked about ‘calling out the called’ but we didn’t do much to encourage that,” Cordell said. “We wanted to model music as a ministry for our youth.”
Although looking forward to reconnecting with old friends, the reunion committee’s leading goal is promoting the choir.
“We decided we could all participate in the combined concert so youth could see how good it has been in our lives,” said Gagel, a member of First Baptist Church of Paducah who currently is seeking a position as a music minister.
Some alumni describe the choir a highlight of their lives, saying it aided their spiritual development as well as career choices.
“It was a spiritually growing experience,” said Kiley Craigmyle Blair, who grew up at First Baptist Church of Owenton. “That’s often how God speaks to you, through music.”
The only member of her church involved from 1993-96, she said the group quickly became a family; she saw many of the same faces each summer.
Blair said she will never forget singing with Southern Baptist music directors from across the nation at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
“That stands out to me,” said Blair, now the pianist at Richland Baptist Church near Owenton. “As a teen, leading those directors in worship was pretty powerful.”
Such experiences can stick with a person for a lifetime, said Kris Billiter, associate pastor of Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville.
Whenever Walnut Street’s music leader schedules “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name,” he alerts Billiter so the associate pastor can join the choir to sing one of his favorite hymns.
“It’s such a beautiful song, something taken from Scripture,” said Billiter, part of First Baptist Church of Lawrenceburg when he sang the hymn with the state choir from 1995-98. “Any time you do it as a church it ushers you into the presence of God.”
Besides providing many memorable experiences, Billiter said the choir helped direct him into the pulpit.
While majoring in religious studies at Western Kentucky University and leading the Baptist student choir on campus, Billiter said God clarified his call to serve as a pastor.
“The main thing was the experience of singing praises to God in a choir of this magnitude,” he said. “The skill level of the people was amazing.”
John Strickland’s year in the choir helped redirect his career path from teaching to music ministry. After graduating in 2012 from Southern Seminary, he became minister of music at Southside Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va.
In addition to singing with the state choir just after high school, Strickland also chaperoned teens the summer after he graduated from Campbellsville University.
Both stints were crucial to his decision to pursue fulltime ministry.
“My parents were surprised I wanted to do this,” said Strickland, who served as a bivocational minister during his brief tenure as a teacher. “But it was clear that teaching was not God’s calling for me.”
Even though prior travel plans will prevent Strickland from attending, he thinks the reunion will be significant for Kentucky Baptists.
“Regardless of style, singing is still an integral aspect of worship,” he said. “It’s something we’re commanded to do and is going on in heaven right now. People who started the choir understand it’s not only important to sing ourselves but to teach kids to do this.”
If your church is seeking assistance in worship, music or prayer ministries, contact Jason Stewart by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (502) 489-3543 or 1-866-489-3543 (toll-free in Kentucky).
Story by Ken Walker, KBC Communications