My Neighbor Jack

Every once in a while as a musician, I experience a moment of absolute beauty and my soul just opens up and relaxes for a moment.

I rarely have any warning about when these moments will happen, but they are SO very rare and powerful that I find myself saying yes to way more projects than I probably should, just in case. I find myself constantly leaning forward hoping I’ll be a part of something like this again.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had many such moments in my life. Now that I think back on each of them, I realize that all of them absolutely altered the course of my journey and served as an elision to two chapters of my life.

As FUMCFW’s DiscipleChurch Music Leader, this past Sunday I played for maybe the 400th of these 8:30 am  worship services at my church — and something so touching happened that I just about lost the ability to play.

We often have guest preachers, and that day it was my good friend and colleague, Dr. Mike Marshall. Whenever he preaches, Mike likes to enlist other people to help him with what he deems “Bafoonery.”

On that morning one of the themes of Mike’s message regarded the release of the Tom Hanks film about the life of Fred Rogers. Mike had asked me to play a little bit of the Mr. Rogers theme to kind of punctuate that moment in his sermon. I was happy to oblige as about 20 years ago I accompanied another good friend of mine in singing it in a similar moment in church. Things went smoothly and it was well-received.

As is usual in DiscipleChurch, when the sermon concluded I began to play a short musical meditation on its theme. Sometimes it’s easier to pick up on these themes than others. This time I was already staring at the piano score to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” that I’d played the intro to for that part of the sermon. And, because I hadn’t really had the opportunity to play the melody through, I just launched into the melody.

About halfway through the first phrase I heard a voice in the congregation joining me — singing every word, in tune, and sweetly in time to my playing.
I looked up briefly from my music and I saw that the voice belonged to Jack.

Many of us in the church have become very familiar with Jack over the years. He is a member of the homeless community of downtown Fort Worth who comes with many of the people who are homeless in Fort Worth to share home-cooked prepared by members of our church just before the 8:30 am DiscipleChurch worship service in Leonard Memorial Chapel.

Jack and a handful of others often stick around for this quaint and somewhat unique worship experience.  Jack is one of the very faithful and is in his seat in the front left almost without fail. He usually has a very noisy black garbage bag full of aluminum cans that he slings over his shoulder. He often fidgets in his pew, twirls his pencil distractingly during the sermon and frankly has an unusual habit of cackling during the sermon — sometimes in response to something funny or amusing, but sometimes without any obvious cause.

I’ve also seen Jack throughout the city over the years walking with his cowboy hat on and his bag of cans. He often wears a bow tie to church. It’s obviously something he cares about, and it’s a community he calls home — and we welcome him.

Anyway, on this past Sunday Jack continued to sing every last word of the song, right with me till the end: “Won’t you please. Won’t you please. Please, won’t you be my neighbor?”

There was something in that moment that really struck me. Here’s a homeless man spontaneously singing a solo with me about wanting to be our neighbor. It spoke to me and it’s still revealing things to me the more I think about it.

I know, but sometimes I forget, how powerful music can be — what memories it triggers — and the emotions it stirs.

I’m touched that the words and music of Fred Rogers were waiting inside of Jack, after so many years, as clear as day and ready to be sung out.

I’m touched that our church is such a welcoming place that Jack and so many other special members of our community have a place to let their voices sing out.

I’m touched that I was able to share this very special musical moment with Jack and the rest of the congregation.

It has been an incredibly stress-filled and busy couple of weeks, and I was not ready for this moment — but it came to me anyway — and I am grateful I didn’t miss it.

Hans Grim
DiscipleChurch Music Leader


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