For Brad Jones, 25 years have gone by like a few short months.
As the chief organist for First United Methodist Church in Morristown, Jones has transitioned from substitute organist at several area churches to a lifelong fixture – and he has loved every minute of his time there.
“(The church members) have been so supportive of me,” Jones said. “My worst day there is better than my best day at any other jobs.”
“He’s an amazing musician, and he adds so much to every service. I’ve never heard anyone else play like (he does),” said Walter Weikel, senior pastor at FUMC, who has held the position since 2017. “I was impressed by how professional he was, and hearing him (play for the first time) made me want to be a member here.”
Ben Stapleton, director of music ministries at the church, said he immediately accepted his role as soon as he heard Jones play for the first time.
“I’ve never met anyone who can raise the crowd at the church,” he said. “(Jones) ministers to the congregation through his music.
“It’s one of the highlights of every service.”
Born and raised in Mt. Juliet, just outside of Nashville, Jones holds church music degrees from Cumberland University in Lebanon and Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia. He moved to East Tennessee in 1984 to serve as the tonal director for Randall Dyer & Associates, a firm that builds pipe organs, a position that takes him through the east coast – from Orlando to Boston.
Once arriving in the area, Jones played at First Baptist Church for six years before leaving. Over the next four years, he served as a substitute organist in the Lakeway Area before landing at FUMC on an interim basis in 1994.
The position had been previously offered to another person, who declined the offer. Jones continued to play at the church – and has never left.
“It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been that long ago. I was at a different church when (FUMC) came to me because they needed an organist badly,” he said. “I’m the longest interim organist they’ve ever had.”
FUMC members come to see Jones minister with his music every Sunday, however, what Jones has done behind the scenes isn’t as well-known.
“He does a lot for our church outside the limelight,” Stapleton said. “He’ll do things to prepare for a service, such as cleaning the pews, and he’ll practice on Saturdays while he does his other work.”
“One of the great things about Brad is that he is a master of leading worship, and he does a lot of things behind the scenes nobody knows about,” Weikel said.
Weikel also said Jones can easily relate to his peers through good times, and bad times.
“(Jones) is one of those people who is actively engaged with the other choir members,” Weikel said. “He has built so many relationships with other members of the church.
“He goes out of his way to make special events like weddings and funerals perfect.”
Jones jokingly said his vehicle is a familiar sight on weekend nights in downtown Morristown.
“I’m usually at the church on Saturday nights, and that’s when I’m seriously working,” he said. “The police know my car, so they know nothing crazy on the streets at that time.
“I’m usually the only person at the church at that time.”
FUMC holds traditional services, as well as a more contemporary service. Jones said that is one of the many things that makes the church unique because it hasn’t had to modify any sections.
“You would be hard-pressed to find that anywhere else in Morristown,” he said.
Jones said FUMC has treated him like a family member during his time as the organist, even supporting him after an accident which caused him to miss several weeks a few years ago.
“I have a great appreciation for the support they’ve given me over the years,” Jones said. “When I was recovering, they even continued to pay my salary, even though I was unable to work.”
Stapleton said he is very lucky to have been able to work with Jones, and his presence has made Stapleton’s job much easier.
“I doubt I’ll ever work with anyone who has talent as special as (Jones) has,” Stapleton said. “I’ve talked to several of the other musical directors who came before me – and they all miss working with Brad.”
Jones said the time will eventually come where he will have to step down, but he hopes that day doesn’t happen any time soon.
“I’ve seen so many church organists stay well past their primes due to illness or age,” Jones said. “I’m concerned of that, and I don’t want to be that guy when my time comes.”