Our guest blogger this week is Anna Elizabeth Rider Gard. Anna is a lifelong Community of Christ member from the Independence, Missouri area. Anna attended Graceland University and graduated with degrees in Vocal Performance and Music Education K-12. Anna went onto receive her Masters of Music at Kansas State University. She is now an Elementary Music teacher at Blackburn Elementary. Anna spends much of her time outside of work with her husband Tanner and her cats Katniss and J.K. She also sings as a Soprano for the Center Place Singers. We are so excited to have Anna share how music connects her with God.
Growing Up With Ministry of Music
Baby memories are very uncommon…the earliest I can remember was when I was 2 years old. And before that all I can remember is warmth. This warmth I know is from unconditional love, first given to my parents from the Lord and then passed from them to me.
My parents are both organists and love classical music. I’m not talking about the genres of classic rock or country, but classical as in J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, G.F. Handel, and the list goes on from there. I grew up with the sounds of these composers’ minds, perhaps their feelings, and thoughts of life (we will never fully know). My parents filled my life with a musical energy and passion for it that as a child little did I know would develop into a love for life. However it was not just music, it became a passion for giving to others in a way I’m still trying to understand. What I speak of is a beautiful presence called Ministry of Music.
Feeling The First Connection
The first time I felt the connection to God through music was singing in children’s choir at church. At that time, I’m not sure how profound it felt to sing with a group of my church family peers, although I remember feeling the love of the congregation. And how appreciative they always seemed when I sang with the choir and then eventually singing solo, ministry of music.
The second time I felt the connection was through campfire songs. Whether we were singing silly or serious songs, God was right there singing through the words and the people around me. It has come to be such a comfort over the years. During my school years, I really struggled with test taking, so my parents decided to take me to a therapist. I would go and talk to this man about test anxiety. The final question he asked me was… “Where is a place you could be that will take your anxiety away?” My thoughts went immediately to a campfire at church camp. There is a calm and joy in the atmosphere of campfire. It is the community, music and spirit that surrounds all those who witness its passion and power.
As a young kid, I don’t think I really understood music ministry was such a powerful strength to help lift people up. As a high schooler, I was invited to come and sing solo at many congregations in the Independence, MO community. Each time I sang for a congregation, it became easier to share my love of music and put my true feelings into my voice.
My Community – Center Place Singers
At the end of my college years, like many students, who wish to some day be a teacher, I was doing my student teaching back home in Independence, MO. I was invited by a church choir to come and sing with them. This wasn’t any church choir; this was the Center Place Singers. CPS was a group I had grown up listening to and coming to their Independence famous “chicken dinners,” in which they would serve the food and then sing. Their main service though was and is ministry of music at local congregations around the area. This group helped me continue singing in a community at a time when I felt quite alone. They became a blessing and I quickly grew to love each of the members with all my heart.
After I graduated college and got married, my husband, Tanner and I moved to Manhattan, KS where I pursued a master’s degree and at the time was unable to sing with CPS. Once I finished my graduate degree, Tanner and I decided to move back to our hometown, Independence, MO. And I was back singing with CPS again.
Currently I have been singing with the Center Place Singers for 4 ½ years. We have recorded songs for the church hymnal, recorded our own album at Graceland University, Carol Hall, and have had many beautiful ministry experiences singing in many places around the Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa areas. I can’t really put into words what these people have done for my life, but I will say God has made each of us for this body of Christ that has made so much of an impact on my life and many others. Together our music gives warmth and unconditional love to all who hear us. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Beliefs of How Music Connects Me to God
I believe the creator gave us music to have a universal language for the world. Music connects each of us to all of the connections through various subjects. To count the rhythm is to understand math. To develop understanding of sound waves is to be a scientist. For a composer to add words or leave it instrumental they create reading. To listen to music and add dance and movement gives physical development. Using this universal language to understand many cultures becomes social studies which creates peace among all peoples. As a music teacher, I see each of my students slowly start to make these connections and then use it to give them understanding. In my opinion to make music is how we feel God’s joy for all.
I have always felt to sing is to share a little bit of your self each time. Each persons voice is unique and gives flight to the soul to share it with others because it is so personal. God gave me this gift not to keep it for myself, but share it with others. When I share music ministry there are times people clap for me as though it is a performance. Sometimes they approach me and tell me how much it meant to them for me to share my gifts. A few times I have had people ask, “Does it bother you to receive applause?” I always say, “no, because the clapping I know is not for me, but instead for the glory of God. The almighty gave me the gift of music and singing so I could share it and use it for the Lord’s glory.” And I will continue to do so all the days of my life.
It is a deep understanding of warmth and unconditional love. I know for my whole life I will continue to try and make sense of this music connecting me to God. As I write this, I know in my whole heart that God gives me strength and this understanding of his love. The connection is so deep and so vast that nothing we do will separate us from the divine. Music gives God a vessel unlike any other connection to unify people as one. When I sing, I feel the warmth within the middle of my body and the energy expands outward filling the space around me.
11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!
- Psalm 30:11-12 - New Living Translation (NLT)
My Musical Testimony
My Master Hath A Garden
Music by Eric H. Thiman & Words - Anonymous
My Master hath a garden, Fulfilled with divers flowers,
Where thou may’st gather poesies gay, All times and hours.
Here not is heard but paradise bird,
Harp, dulcimer, and lute, With cymbal, and timbrel,
and the gentle sounding flute.
Oh! Jesus, Lord, my heal and weal, My bliss complete,
Make Thou my heart Thy garden plot, True, fair, and neat;
That I may hear this music clear,
Harp, dulcimer and lute, With cymbal, and timbrel,
And the gentle sounding flute.
Before each and every ministry of music and performance, my mother and father would always quote the following words written by J.S.Bach and G.F. Handel at the end of their compositions: S. D. G. (Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone).
These two composers have been a large part of my musical beginnings. In learning that they used these words as a focus for each of their sacred works has become a lifelong focus for my music connecting me to the Lord. When I use this focus, I in turn feel God’s blessings and strength. There have been times I am unwell, but the Lord is always right there guiding my voice with divine direction and grace. Also, other times I struggle with the understanding of song text and what the deeper meaning may be. It is usually made clear either right before I sing a song or while I am giving my music ministry. This is definitely the Lord giving a blessing of understanding and connection to his unfailing grace.
We each have our blessings, gifts and what connects us to the Lord. And when we find our connections to God, we are richly blessed with a lifelong understanding of unconditional love.
A big thank you to Anna sharing her gifts and passions with us. May we all use Music to connect with the divine.
This week find music that speaks to you and listen to God in the midst of it.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.