After 25 years of service, First United Methodist Church’s chief organist Brad Jones knew the members of the church had something in store for him.
However, he had no idea what his fellow parishioners were planning. During the afternoon service on Nov. 10, Jones was presented with a framed copy of an anthem used for special occasions with an inscription written specifically for him.
“They caught me off guard on this one. They present me with a framed copy (of the anthem), and I never saw it coming,” Jones said.
Once he got over the initial shock, Jones allowed himself to live in the moment.
“I was prepared to accompany (the choir) for a different anthem,” he said. “I knew about the reception (after the service), but this was a surprise.
“I was shocked and touched. I played the rest of the service with my head spinning.”
The anthem, called “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” was commissioned by the church and written by English composer Philip Stopford, who resides in Bronxville, New York.
From fruition to completion, the anthem took around nine months to create under the parameters specified by the church.
Richmond, Virginia-based organist Allen Bean, who was scheduled to perform a free concert later in the evening, performed the anthem with the choir while Jones sat, still overwhelmed the by moment.
“Working for such a caring congregation is amazing,” Jones said. “This happened during the second service, and many people returned from the first service to attend.”
“(Jones) was very touched, and he nearly teared up when it was played,” said Ben Stapleton, music director at First United Methodist. “That is out of character for him, but we were proud of what we could do for him.”
Stapleton said he received the completed version in September after the final approval of the project. Donations were pledged from the congregation, and an undisclosed amount was raised to commission the anthem.
“We had to come up with a text (for the anthem),” he said. “I came up with several versions, and (Stopford) chose from that.”
Jones’ full-time position as a piano and organ tuner and installer for Randall Dyer and Associates in Morristown kept him on the road a great, which created the optimum environment for Stapleton and the choir to rehearse the anthem without Jones knowing anything.
“Our normal rehearsal is held on Wednesday nights, but we rehearsed on Tuesday nights off-campus for about six weeks,” Stapleton said. “We had a couple of Wednesdays when (Jones) was out of town working, and we rehearsed at the church.”
Despite careful planning, there were a few slip-ups that could have ruined the surprise.
“I’ve been missing a lot of practices because I was out of town so much,” Jones said. “(The congregation) almost dropped the ball a few times, but they did a good job keeping the secret as far as that was concerned.”
“I was worried there might be a slip-up, but it was ok,” Stapleton said. “We publically asked for donations in Sunday School classes.
“There were several chances for that, but no one let it slip.”
Senior pastor Walter Weikel admitted he was one of the people who almost gave away the secret, but fortunately, no one noticed, especially Jones.
“I almost said something during the early service,” he said. “When I wrote the sermon, I wrote about Psalm 98, which talks about a new song, and I forgot it was supposed to be sung during the evening service.”