Passing the Torch

By September 16, 2015Music & Worship Arts

Janis RathburnThank you, Janis!

It began when she was dropping off her 18-month old son for Mother’s Day out. She wandered upstairs to see if there’s something she might do to help out. (It’s possible that she had no idea what to do with herself with this sudden freedom…or maybe she just didn’t want to get too far in case he missed her too much). Cynthia McElrath found her a few things to do, and soon realized how sweet, efficient, and pleasant to work with she was — and how she managed to step in quietly and take care of everything and everyone who crossed her path. “I knew I had skills that might be helpful, and I wanted to be involved in the activities of my children outside of the home,” Janis remembers. “I stayed all these years because I thought I could make a real difference.”

One thing led to another and her volunteer work turned into part time employment in the children’s division. When Mark Burrows joined the staff in 1995, (and her son was a young teenager who liked music) she found a place where she could add quiet and indispensable support to a burgeoning youth choir, serving as “choir mom” to a youth choir that topped out at 85 teens and organized and traveled with them on 10 tours, including such noteworthy jaunts as the 2000 “Elvis Tour”, to LA, twice to Chicago, and in 2004, Jolly Old England! In her 25 years of service to our church, including sleeping more than 50 nights on the floor on tour with teens whose own children are now coming to VBS, Janis Rathburn has been that same sweet, steady, capable and generous influence she added on that first day of “helping out” to more children teens and families than anyone can count. “I have so many memories of choir tours,” she says. “I loved the way being on the bus let the kids get to know each other and discover things they had in common that they never knew they had. I remember the roaring laughter and the extreme exhaustion and how excited we were every year to get on that bus! Of course, I also remember the bittersweet moments,” she adds, “like how I teared up every single time they sang ‘What a Wonderful World’, especially when my own kids were seniors! But all those youth touched my heart.”

Janis’s reach of generosity, spirit and kindness goes far beyond being helpful to touching the hearts and lives of many people who may not have even realized the impact of her behind the scenes care of our church’s families. “Working with Choral Union with Mark and then with Taylor Davis taught me that people never outgrow that desire to be appreciated and cared for,” Janis relates. “I wanted to make the choir experience as enjoyable as possible for the choir members because of the many hours they give in order to bring such beautiful music to our worship services. I just believe so deeply in the power of music. And I’m extremely grateful for every friendship I’ve made here. I’m going to really miss being a part of it all.”

With Janis’ retirement this past week, an era ends for First Church, and a new one begins for Janis. She, her husband, Steve, their son, Chris (that 18-month old that started it all is now 33), daughter, Ashley (now 30) are now looking ahead to some well-deserved R&R to launch the next chapter in their own story. We’ll miss Janis deeply, and wish her all the best in her new adventures to come! If you’d like to send a note of appreciation to Janis, her new personal email is (


Elaine Johnson

With Janis’ retirement, the job of choir mom will be capably assumed by Elaine Johnson, Music and Worship Assistant (dubbed last week by the kids as “Mama J”) whose work with our Youth Choir has spanned decades and countless miles caring for our teenagers (as well as her own two, Jenny and Michael) and all the adults who love and lead them.


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