Holly Phares Invited as Artist in Residence for 2016

Holly Phares Invited as Artist in Residence for 2016

Serendipity: “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”

Just about the time Julie looked at me and admitted, “I don’t ever have a time I don’t have a whole list of things to do” (implying that even the interim music leadership was starting to feel like too much), she and I heard about a chance, but beneficial development of events.

Julie has been serving as our Interim Choir Director since the position became vacant in October. She had offered to see us through until June and the end of this program year. All of a sudden, Julie and I both heard separately that Holly Phares might be free.

Holly is a colleague of ours; for the last 25 years she has served as the Director of Music at our sister congregation in West Philly, Tabernacle United Church. Julie said to me, “I can’t think of anyone better for music at Old First — she is committed to and very effective at helping a variety of musicians make beauty; she will, without any trouble, get our theology, ethos and sound, in fact add to it; she is very organized and can produce a strong and varied music program, and she has vocal coaching skills like I don’t.” To learn more about Holly, read her full bio.

So I talked to Holly. And then Julie and I took it to the Worship Standing Leadership Committee. And finally I spoke to the Elders. And here’s the plan that has emerged.

We acknowledge it’s not our usual procedure. And not anything we could foresee. But we saw this as an opportunity not to be missed.

Hence, the one year term as “Artist in Residence.” Without our normal search process that calls the congregation to do some reflection and self-study, we didn’t think we could ask either Holly or the congregation to make a permanent commitment. So we used instead the model of “covenant ministry” that brought me to Old First.

While Holly will cover all the roles and responsibilities of the Director of Music (much as I covered the functions of pastor), this first term will allow more flexibility for us to figure out how to make the most of our music resources, leadership and ministry. And at the end of the one-year term, Holly and Old First can decide if ours is a relationship that should continue in a more permanent way.

Holly will be her own accompanist on the piano, but she does not play the organ. So the model we are working out will include hiring an organist — on average twice a month (but scheduled as it suits the musical calendar) — to take advantage of the wonderful instrument in our choir loft and to add to our repertoire. Kyle, for instance, who will be our guest organist for Christmas Eve, might be available as an on-going regular.

We expect to be able to accomplish both Holly’s residence and the guest organist without any additional cost to the music ministry budget line.

The Worship Standing Leadership Group had had a different plan in mind. They were thinking, “after we get past the Annual Meeting and work on the Capital Campaign has gotten going, we will orchestrate a congregation-wide conversation about needs and hopes and models for our music ministry.” They wanted the church to reflect on how music plays a role in our ministry — on the way to greater clarity of what we were looking for — prior to entering a search for a new Music Director.

But then serendipity struck.

Holly will already be with us on Christmas Eve and in service on Sunday morning, Dec. 27. She and Julie will work together on Jan. 3, and then Holly will take over the duties that Julie has been covering.

I hope you are looking forward to welcoming a new artist, leader and sister amongst us, even as we need thank Julie once more for her help in these last months. If you have any questions, please speak with me or Julie or Griffin (for the Worship Standing Leadership Group).